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PL Preview: Manchester United vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers

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  • Manchester Uniited midfielder Nemanja Matic and striker Marcus Rashford are both suspended following red cards against Watford and Burnley respectively.
  • Manchester United have won their last six league matches against Wolves at Old Trafford, including all four in the Premier League, one of six sides they have played against on at least four occasions at home in the competition while retaining a 100 per cent record.
  • Wolves have won their last two Premier League matches, both by a 1-0 scoreline. They have not won three in a row in the top-flight since March 1980.
  • Man United are looking to avoid consecutive home defeats in the Premier League for the first time since March 2014, while manager Jose Mourinho has never suffered back-to-back home league defeats in his managerial career.

Facing one of the Premier League’s hottest clubs, Manchester United will look to avoid a second consecutive home defeat when it takes on Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday at 10:00 a.m. ET live online at NBCSports.com/Gold. It’s a reunion of sorts, as Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho meets his countryman Nuno Espirito Santo, who formerly played at goalkeeper for Mourinho while at Porto.

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Man United has looked solid in its last three matches, all away from home, but they’ll want to avoid the memories of the last time the Red Devils took the field at Old Trafford, a 3-0 defeat to Tottenham. On the other side, Wolves are unbeaten in four matches and face their biggest test since facing Manchester City earlier in the season. It’s been 38 years since Wolverhampton last won at Manchester United. Can they re-write history in the process?

What they’re saying

Man United manager Jose Mourinho on his team’s improving defense: “I think the team as a team is resolving the defensive problems better than before. I don’t want to say it was Bailly or Jones, and it’s now Smalling or Lindelof. I think the team is more compact, is more solid, the spirit, the co-operation, the empathy, the communication, all of that improved in the team and good results bring confidence. I think we are improving as a team. I don’t want to say that our improvement has the name of Chris or Victor. The team is playing better and of course they are part of the team that played well in these matches.”

Wolverhampton manager Nuno Espirito Santo on not changing his team’s playing style: “There is no game I recall that we changed. That tells a lot about what the players believe. If you change, it doesn’t make sense. You have to adapt, respect and be humble – know you are facing a strong team – but you cannot change and fear. None of those things are part of us. We go there to compete, believing in ourselves.”

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Prediction

Even with a better defense, Manchester United will feel the absence of Nemanja Matic in midfield. Wolverhampton won’t back down and on the counter, Ruben Neves will make a late run and score from the top of the box to nullify a goal from Romelu Lukaku. Manchester United 1-1 Wolverhampton

 

Man Utd wins; Watford no longer perfect

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  • Red Devils score in 35′, 38′
  • Gray pulls one back
  • Watford loses first of season
  • Matic sent off late

Romelu Lukaku and Manchester United handed Watford its first blemish of the season, beating the Hornets 2-1 at Vicarage Road on Saturday.

Chris Smalling scored a beautiful goal for United to join Lukaku on the score sheet. Nemanja Matic was shown a second yellow card in the third minute of stoppage time.

The Red Devils improve to 3W-2L and join both Arsenal and Tottenham on nine points.

Watford’s 12 points are good for fourth, two above Bournemouth.

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It was very much United’s game from the opening kick, with Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku especially lively in the first five minutes.

Good movement from United allowed Paul Pogba to cut back and hit a left-footed shot from atop the 18, but Ben Foster stooped to collect the ball. At the other end, Will Hughes forced David De Gea into a similar save.

De Gea then made an outstanding save against the run of play when Marouane Fellaini gave the ball away inside the 18 and Troy Deeney laced an effort top corner.

Alexis Sanchez had the ball in the goal but was whistled for offside in the 24th. And he zipped past Christian Kabasele to cut a shot on goal that Foster palmed over the bar.

Lukaku gave United a deserved lead in the 35th minute, using his belly to turn a cross inside the goal.

Center back Smalling made it 2-0 when he chest trapped Fellaini’s header before swiveling to volley a striker’s goal past Foster. The Watford goalkeeper would stop Paul Pogba on the doorstep in stoppage time to limit the deficit to two heading into halftime.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Watford created a goal in the 65th minute with Gray granted plenty of space to hit a cutback cross from Abdoulaye Doucoure past De Gea.

It could’ve been 3-0 had Antonio Valencia sprung Romelu Lukaku on a 2v1, but the Ecuadorian’s later pass led Lukaku to touch the ball to Alexis Sanchez and the Chilean couldn’t manufacture a shot.

That’s when Matic saw his second yellow for breaking up a late rush, but De Gea made a flying save to deprive Kabasele of an equalizer. The ensuing corner kick led to nothing, and the final whistle blew in favor of the visitors.

Three things learned: Man United v. Tottenham

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MANCHESTER — Jose Mourinho and Manchester United are in a really, really bad place right now.

[ RECAP: Spurs hammer United

United lost their second-straight game in the Premier League, with second half goals from Harry Kane and Lucas Moura handing Tottenham their first win at Old Trafford since 2014 as the 3-0 victory underlined their title credentials.

Mourinho and United were left in a crumpled mess after several lineup changes failed to do the trick and the pressure on the Portugeuse coach was cranked up a few notches. The loss was the largest home defeat of his managerial career.

Here’s what we learned from an intense, error-strewn battle at Old Trafford.


POCHETTINO WORKS OUT MOURINHO’S SPECIAL

Whatever Jose Mourinho was drinking when he came up with his team selection for the game against Tottenham, I’ll have a glass of that…

Under pressure since United’s 3-2 defeat at Brighton last Sunday, Mourinho made six changes to his starting lineup. Nemanja Matic was shown as a center back in a graphic by MUTV before the game but played in midfield. Ander Herrera played at right center back during the game. Holding midfielder Fred played as a surging No.10. Midfielder Jesse Lingard played as a central striker.

And it worked quite well in the first half barring a few individual errors from Paul Pogba, Lingard and Matic who gave the ball away cheaply. They had Luke Shaw and Antonio Valencia offering genuine width, with Fred, Pogba and Lukaku going close with first half efforts as the latter should’ve scored after picking off a poor Danny Rose backpass, rounding Hugo Lloris but slotting wide.

It took Tottenham until the end of the first half to figure out how to get an attack going as they could have had a penalty kick when Lucas Moura was brought down, while Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen were both denied. And then the second half happened. Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen tucked themselves in the gaps between Shaw and Valencia and the center backs and caused havoc. Kane scored from a corner and missed a free header. Moura slotted home Eriksen’s cross. Alli forced David De Gea into a fine save. Spurs were rampant once they figured out how to expose United’s creaking mess of a defense.

Mourinho was the coach who use to change his tactics mid-game to win back momentum and change it in his favor. Pochettino was the man who did that on Monday and proved just how much further Tottenham are ahead of United in the battle to challenge Manchester City and Liverpool for the title.


PRESSURE BUILDS AS UNITED LACK CONFIDENCE, DIRECTION

Jose Mourinho has been a moody mess for the last few months and all of his negativity seemed to culminate in the jumbled performance his team put in as they were rolled over by an organized, resolute Tottenham.

Cries of, “you’re getting sacked in the morning!” rang out from the Tottenham fans, as one United fan was shown praying and close to tears on the TV screens. It’s not quite getting that bad, but there are serious issues for Mourinho to try and resolve, if he’s given the chance.

A lack of confidence was clear from United’s players ands so too was a clear direction as to how to play. United’s players were trying “Hollywood balls” and giving it away. Not tracking runners in the second half. Just not focusing on doing the simple things well. This had all the hallmarks of a team freelancing.

That’s when a manager knows he is in trouble.

All the talk of Mourinho’s “third-season syndrome” will be rife in the coming days as he battles to turn it around. This situation is eerily similar to the mess the 2015-16 season became at Chelsea as he was sacked in December with the Blues languishing in the bottom half of the table. It may not get that bad at United this season, but it’s not going to get a lot better if the performances we’ve seen so far continue.

The fact of the matter is, United are well behind Manchester City, Liverpool, Spurs and maybe even Chelsea in the title race.

Since taking over United in the summer of 2016, Mourinho has won 153 points, 19 fewer than Spurs and 31 fewer than Man City. He is not only struggling to turn United into genuine title contenders, he is also struggling to turn them into top four regulars.


SPURS RECOVER VALIANTLY TO SHOWCASE TITLE CREDENTIALS

The World Cup hangover is severe for plenty of teams in the Premier League, but Tottenham will perhaps suffer from it the most. Out of their starting lineup on Monday, only Christian Eriksen and Lucas Moura didn’t reach the final two days of the World Cup. Five Englishman, three Belgians, and a Frenchman mean that Pochettino has been handed a rough deal when it comes to trying to rejuvenate his stars.

In the first half they were off the pace, apart from Moura who was a pest throughout. Kane received a yellow card for a late tackle and Alli wasted a glorious chance. But after Spurs figured out United’s bizarre formation, they took the game by the scruff of the neck. Their midfield finally came to life as Mousa Dembele, Eric Dier and Eriksen won the ball back, used it wisely and that allowed Alli and Moura to time their runs to perfection from wide areas.

Tottenham didn’t play well in the first 45 minutes but they dug deep to turn the game around as their horrendous run at United failed to unnerve them. Pochettino’s squad are no longer “young hopefuls” and they now seem ready to truly challenge for trophies. Last season was supposed to be their season, but this season it just has to be. Even though they didn’t spend any money this summer and there are issues with their new stadium being delayed, Spurs have won their opening three games and look genuine title contenders alongside Liverpool and Man City.

Pochettino is learning, as well as his team, as Tottenham’s dismal away record against the top six has improved. Tottenham have now won three of their 21 PL games away to the “big six” sides, and this was the biggest of them all.

Man United 0-3 Tottenham: 2-minute flurry deepens Mourinho’s woes

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One team stayed perfect, the other is in real trouble. All it took was one fateful two-minute stretch.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Manchester United and Tottenham went back and forth punching and counter-punching, but nobody could break through. Then in a flash, it was all over for the home fans at Old Trafford.

Harry Kane and Lucas Moura scored goals within a minute of each other as Spurs beat Manchester United 3-0 to pile even more pressure on Red Devils boss Jose Mourinho. Kane’s – an absolutely spectacular header – was his second goal ever at Old Trafford, his worst performance at any Premier League venue coming into the match based on minutes played. Moura then capped things off late with his second of the match.

The game exploded off the opening kick, and both teams had opportunities early on. Manchester United started things off as Fred had a dangerous chance on Hugo Lloris‘s net just 16 seconds into the match, but he put it just wide right on the volley. Christian Eriksen nearly chipped Harry Kane in down the other end on 12 minutes, but Kane just couldn’t control. Then at 15 minutes there was the biggest missed opportunity, as Romelu Lukaku rounded Lloris but from a relatively tight angle put the ball agonizingly wide of the open net, a chance he should have taken.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ] 

On 25 minutes, Nemanja Matic was caught in possession by Dele Alli who charged forward on net one-on-two, but Chris Smalling went to ground and won the ball to end the chance.

It went end-to-end on the half-hour mark, as Lucas Moura made a marauding run forward before collapsing under a challenge from Phil Jones, but no call was given. Then down the other end, Jesse Lingard rifled a curling shot past Toby Alderweireld but missed just wide. The Red Devils came so close again three minutes later, first with Paul Pogba lashing a low shot saved by Lloris, and a follow-up took a dangerous deflection but skittered just wide.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Matic was required to make a critical block on a close-range Alli shot on 42 minutes, thanks to his own lack of awareness allowing Alli to slip in behind. Overall, the quality of the first half was severely lacking.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

After halftime, the chances continued to pour in, and finally one side capitalized. Five minutes out of the break, Kane ended his goalscoring hi jinx at Old Trafford with an absolutely brilliant header to put Spurs one-up. Kane’s strike came from a great distance out, perfectly targeted to the far corner leaving David De Gea no chance.

The game would not calm, and Manchester United nearly had an immediate response. Lukaku picked off a back-pass in traffic, and he rifled a shot from a tight angle which Lloris saved expertly. That would not come off, and Spurs would hit back immediately. Down the other end, Christian Eriksen fed the middle of the box from the right-hand side, and Moura struck a low shot into the bottom-left corner past a diving de Gea.

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Alli had another big chance past the hour mark, as he picked off a poor back-pass from substitute Victor Lindelof, but de Gea saved the mistake by coming off his line and snuffing the chance. On the ensuing corner, Kane missed a wide-open header at the far post, putting it wide. The game was finally put away in the 84th minute as Moura killed off the match by taking a pass from Kane near midfield, beating Smalling one-on-one, and striking his shot past de Gea inside the left post.

The loss leaves Manchester United floundering on just three points, meaning they sit six points off the four unbeaten teams at the top which includes Tottenham. Spurs find themselves level in second place with Watford and Chelsea thanks to their +5 goal differential.

Watch Live: Man United v. Tottenham

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Manchester United host Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) in what promises to be an intriguing clash between two title hopefuls.

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Jose Mourinho will want a big reaction from his United side after they lost at Brighton last time out, while Mauricio Pochettino‘s Spurs will want to keep their 100 percent record intact and lay down an early marker as to their title credentials.

In team news United make six changes with Antonio Valencia, Nemanja Matic, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Jesse Lingard and Ander Herrera.

Tottenham make two changes with Danny Rose and Mousa Dembele coming in.


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