Chris Smalling Own-Goal Helps Wolves Upset Manchester United in EPL

Gianni Verschueren@ReverschPassFeatured ColumnistApril 2, 2019

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - APRIL 02:  Paul Pogba of Manchester United is challenged by Willy Boly of Wolverhampton Wanderers during the Premier League match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Manchester United at Molineux on April 02, 2019 in Wolverhampton, United Kingdom. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Manchester United's bid to finish the Premier League season in the top four took a hit on Tuesday, as the Red Devils were beaten by Wolverhampton Wanderers at Molineux. A Chris Smalling own-goal put the final 2-1 score on the board.

Scott McTominay scored his first ever Premier League goal in the first half, courtesy of a good strike from outside the box:

OptaJoe @OptaJoe

41 - Scott McTominay has scored his first ever @ManUtd goal in what is his 41st appearance for the club in all competitions. Opener. https://t.co/l1MLEGUbEW

A mistake from Fred allowed Diogo Jota to tie things up before half-time, however.

Ashley Young was sent off after the break for a second bookable offence. It was referee Mike Dean's 100th dismissal:

B/R Football @brfootball

Achievement unlocked 🙃 https://t.co/y8D4WYpcPG

Wolves pushed for a winner after the sending off and found it when a mad scramble saw the ball come off Smalling into his own net.

The result opens the door for Chelsea to leap past the Red Devils in the standings with a win over Brighton on Wednesday.


Despite Blunder, Fred Should Start Barcelona Match

McTominay was United's best midfielder on Tuesday and should have secured a starting position for the first leg of the Barcelona Champions League tie with his performance, but partner Fred quietly had a solid outing of his own―even if it came partly undone by a massive mistake.

The Brazilian was largely at fault for Jota's equaliser, giving the ball away with a bad touch after receiving a tricky pass from David De Gea that he should have dealt with better.

As noted by sportswriter Miguel Delaney, the blunder overshadowed what was a solid display from the former Shakhtar Donetsk man, something that has become a theme:

Miguel Delaney @MiguelDelaney

Fred has actually been generally good since back, only to have that obscured by individual howlers. Probably natural when playing infrequently in a new league, and getting back to grips with starting. Good player there.

Statman Dave shared some key numbers from the first half:

Statman Dave @StatmanDave

No player on the pitch completed more passes (35), made more ball recoveries (6) or won more tackles (2) than Fred in the first half vs. Wolves He also resisted his first assist of the campaign. 🅰️ https://t.co/rhKb1F1SER

United can't afford to make mistakes like that against a strong and efficient Barcelona team, but Solskjaer should still go with Fred in the first leg. He provides much-needed mobility at the base of midfield, something that would make him a solid counter to the Catalans' intricate style of play built around ball movement.

The 26-year-old has already shown what he can do on the biggest stage, as he put forth a sensational display in the tie against Paris Saint-Germain.

Nemanja Matic showed his limitations against Watford last weekend, and while he's generally more secure on the ball, it likely won't be enough to stop Barcelona from scoring. United need to take risks against the Blaugrana, and that plan includes starting Fred over the Serb.


Premier League's Top Clubs Should Target Jota in Summer

It has taken him a little longer than expected, but Jota is finally enjoying the breakout campaign scouts have been predicting for years, finding his footing as one of the star forwards in an exciting Wolves team.

The 22-year-old has appeared on lists of intriguing prospects for years, making the move to Atletico Madrid in 2016. He flashed his potential during a loan stint with FC Porto but struggled for consistency, and the Rojiblancos opted to send him to the Championship for another loan.

His 2017-18 campaign for Wolves was excellent, but he needed to be tested against stiffer competition than what he faced in the Championship. It's safe to say he's held his own against Premier League defenders of late:

WhoScored.com @WhoScored

GOAL! Wolves 1-1 Manchester United Diogo Jota has played a direct hand in nine goals in his last seven games at Molineaux (six goals, three assists). Fred with the error for United Follow the action live — https://t.co/4ALCmnx6PV

Jota will likely never profile as a forward who consistently scores 20+ goals every season, but he contributes in plenty of other ways. It's no coincidence Young's red-card offence came for a tackle on the trickster, and he created plenty of danger with some of his clever passing and movement, attributes that don't show up on the stat sheet.

He's a player who should interest some of the Premier League's best clubs this summer. The competition's best tacticians will find a fit for the versatile forward, whether it's as a starter or a luxury player to bring off the bench to change a match.


What's Next?

United will host Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League on April 10. Wolves visit Watford in the FA Cup on Sunday.