Venue – the Theatre of Dreams, aka Old Trafford, Manchester. Time – Monday 8pm, August 14th. The fourth favourites to win the ’23/24 Premier League entertain the joint-third favourites to be relegated from it. Welcome to Manchester United vs Wolverhampton Wanderers.
A season-opener of course for both, and the last throw of a weekend that will have seen everyone in meaningful action. As we’re about to look at this fixture in more detail the general opening shots market-wise sees Utd very warm favourites at 2/7, it’s 10/1 about a Wolves win, and 9/2 the Draw.
Wolves managed to avoid relegation last term, comfortably enough in the end. That was about the sum total of all that was half-decent about ’22/23. Manchester United finished third, and bagged the League Cup. They have a promising manager in Erik ten Hag, who is threatening to end the confusion and uncertainty that’s surrounded the position just about every season since Sir Alex Ferguson departed the scene in 2013.
Wolves have a new, very recently acquired manager. Gary O’Neil was first of all surprisingly released by Bournemouth at the season’s end, and now finds himself in the Molineux hotseat following the shock departure of Julen Lopetegui. The late, great Jimmy Greaves’ observation ‘it’s a funny old game’ gathers more resonance with each passing season.
Utd have ‘keeper Andre Onana and midfielder Mason Mount chomping at the bit to make their marks, while I understand new boy up front Rasmus Hojlund is sidelined for the moment with a back problem.
Matheus Cunha could feature for Wolves despite a recent hiccup and old boy Matt Doherty could be primed for ‘debut’ number 2, after returning to the fold.
Utd possessed one of the meaner defences around the division last term. Wolves were one of the most shot-shy, with a woeful goals for total (31). It’s frankly not difficult to get excited at the prospect of the Reds having a bit of a day of it against their visitors, well an evening at least, and that’s the way I’m playing it selections-wise.
To win both halves – Manchester United @ 13/8
This market always intrigues me. Teams can dominate and win 4-1, say, and still not collect (imagine being 3 up at half-time, and then the 2nd half is a 1-1 draw, if you get my drift – so the final score is 4-1, but the to win both halves bet is not successful).
For this match, I’m hoping that Utd can clearly have the edge in both periods. This is day one of their quest. A packed and noisy Old Trafford. Expectations off the scale, and an opponent whose main ambition one suspects after recent turbulence will be to avoid defeat.
Utd have the firepower and the will to impose themselves upon this Wolves side, who tend most definitely NOT to keep clean sheets on their travels. It’s not a market I use all that much but I’m happy to take advantage of it on Monday night.
Handicap betting , Manchester United -2 @ 21/10
Having established that a similar pattern of dominance and searching for goals can plausibly form a huge part of the Reds’ output for the night, I’m thinking of a likely margin of victory. What would you say was the ‘par’ score for this fixture? In my view, after much head-scratching and the odd tea-leaf reading, it’s 3-0 to the home side.
Can I envisage Wolves being scoreless? Yes. Utd’s expected goal tally? Well 2 is a minimum, and 3 or 4 is more likely in my book. So – a bet in the handicap market of Man Utd -2 at just over 2/1 is a bet worth having for me.
To collect, we’re going to need Utd to win by 3 clear goals or more. There is an option here to back the handicap tie (-2), so a margin of 2 is no good to us in this instance. Can they do it? Of course, but it needs all that initial, first match, soaring ambition and optimism to be harnessed.
I’m hoping ten Hag is just the man, now his feet are firmly under the coach’s table at one of world football’s most famous addresses. Bit harsh on Wolves, who have contributed greatly to the Premier scene these past few years, but who are currently in uncertain waters. O’Neil will have drilled them comprehensively, as much as his limited time will have allowed – but it’s a big ask to come here on day one and stem the tide.