Seeing the above scoreline still makes for strange reading several days later, doesn’t it?
It was inevitable that, if Manchester United continued to put themselves in precarious positions on a regular basis, it would come back to bite them eventually.
Last Saturday marked the 10th time in 25 Premier League matches that United had taken a lead and then allowed the opposition to equalize, with six of those occurrences coming away from Old Trafford. Up until Saturday, the worst the opposition had done in one of those situations is equalize, but the game of percentages caught up with United at Molineux.
Along with having already taken the scalps of City, Liverpool, and Chelsea, Wolves didn’t fold at Old Trafford after falling behind in both the Premier League and the Carling Cup earlier this season, so it comes as no surprise that they didn’t after Nani’s early strike. On top of that, their need for points had reached the desperation stage, so fair play to them for doing what was required to get three valuable points and a win that reignites their hopes for survival.
It would seem that there are few, if any, positives to take from a defeat to the league’s bottom team, but if ever there was a time and a place for United to lose their first Premier League game of the season, this was it, for multiple reasons.
1) It may be viewed as poor timing to lose before one of the most important games of the season, but there might be more reason for our upcoming opponents to worry instead of us.
There’s no secret that United haven’t been near their best in many matches this season, and to still be struggling with inconsistency at this juncture of the season is a real concern, even with United having held down top spot in the Premier League for almost two and a half months now.
United are still in the driver’s seat in the title race, and up until Saturday, had excelled at surviving and getting results week in, week out, whereas City, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Tottenham have all stumbled to defeat at least five times, with some of them equally as or more unsightly than our defeat at Molineux. Arsenal? Lost at home to West Brom and Newcastle (and then there’s what happened Saturday that likely felt a lot like a defeat). City? Lost at West Brom and Wolves and at home against Everton. Chelsea? Lost 3-0 at home to Sunderland and lost at Wolves. Spurs? Lost at home to Wigan and at West Ham.
But there are some tough, tough matches ahead, and losing greatly lessens the margin for error from here on. However, finally having to deal with some tangible consequences for another underwhelming performance could be just the fierce kick in the teeth the team needs to get them to start playing up to their full ability for 90 minutes on a consistent basis.
And what better opponent to have that awakening against than City, both because they’re City and because they’re right there in the thick of the title race and inflicting defeat on our archrivals would go a long way towards turning what’s currently a three-horse race into a two-horse tilt.
2) If you’re going to lose, better it come in a situation where you lose as little ground as possible.
United’s defeat did indeed tighten things up at the top of the table, but their advantage was trimmed by a single point. Arsenal mightily squandered the opportunity be within only two points again, as they allowed Newcastle to stunning overturn a 4-0 deficit in the span of 20 minutes in their 4-4 draw at St. James’.
City’s three easy points against West Brom helped them make up some of the ground that they’d given up recently, but they’re still five back with one more match played.
Most importantly, Chelsea, who many still considered to be the most legitimate threat to United’s title hopes, lost at home to resurgent Liverpool to keep the distance between themselves and United at 10 points. To be seven points back with two matches still remaining against United would have been a dangerous, dangerous position, but instead, they’re one defeat closer to being out of it.
By that same token, United weren’t able to take advantage of their rivals’ missteps and score a win that would have all but put the nail in Chelsea’s coffin and pad the lead on Arsenal, who have seven home matches left to United’s six, including United’s visit to the Emirates on April 30.
But if United are to lose only one time this season, last weekend was about the best place for it to happen.
3) With the mental fortitude that United possess, it would seem unlikely that all of the talk of an unbeaten season would be a serious detriment. But it’s reasonable to assume that the longer United stayed unbeaten, the more it would have weighed on everyone’s minds individually, even if the topic remained off-limits for dressing room discussion.
And as nice as it was to be into February with a chance at an unbeaten Premier League season – in a season in which parity and competitiveness is as high as it’s ever been, no less, dropping the distraction at this point can do more good than harm. Plenty of pressure automatically comes with being Manchester United and perennially being in the mix for multiple trophies, but throw in the potential of an achievement that even United’s most storied sides weren’t able to accomplish, and you can only imagine how the nerves of some could be.
It would have been a tough task to go through the final few months unscathed. Escaping the trio of visits to Arsenal, Chelsea, and Liverpool without a single defeat is a tough sell in any season, Blackburn and Newcastle are both tricky places to play, and West Ham and Wigan are both fighting for their Premier League lives.
But from here, without having to hear ‘is this when United will lose? will they be able to maintain the streak?’ ahead of every upcoming match, the squad’s individual and collective focus can now solely be on maintaining their hold on top spot and securing the title.