Unbeaten in five under the new boss and eight since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer departed, the top four had come back into view for United in recent weeks. The performances under Rangnick thus far had been anything but scintillating, with Newcastle unfortunate not to beat United last time out. Results, nonetheless, were at least bringing hope of better times ahead.
Instead, it was back to square one as Wolves put United to the sword at Old Trafford, somehow only winning by a one-goal margin. Phil Jones, playing his first Premier League game in 712 days, got a rude awakening as Wolves laid siege on the United goal from the off.
Daniel Podence twisted and turned, forcing David De Gea into two fine early saves, with the pick of the overworked Spaniard’s first-half stops an acrobatic fingertip to Ruben Neves’ attempt at a Mateo Kovacic carbon copy-goal on the volley.
Wolves had bettered their average shots per game in the Premier League – 10 – before the clock had even passed 27 minutes and finished the opening period having amassed more attempts in 45 minutes against United than any other opposition team had managed at Old Trafford since Opta started collecting such data in 2003-04.
Rangnick was keen to once again get the buzzword across in his pre-match programme notes, pressing home the importance of exerting “control”, but there was not a single minute of the first half United could lay claim to being on top in, with them unable to even masquerade as a side who had the slightest inkling over what it was they were supposed to be doing.
“We didn’t press at all. They were the better team, we had big problems trying stop them playing,” Rangnick said. “I knew from the start it would not be an easy job (turning United around) – that is the reason the club contacted me. Today was not good at all.”
The United boss had seen enough on the hour mark, with Bruno Fernandes summoned from the bench. A smattering of boos were heard from the terraces as the hosts’ only real attacking threat, Mason Greenwood, was the man withdrawn.
Fernandes burst into life straight away to react to a Nemanja Matic cross, only to thunder his effort against the crossbar. The Portuguese, just as he did on debut against Wolves two years previously, had enlivened United, tenfold.
The tide had not turned, however, as it was Wolves’ turn to hit the crossbar next, with Romain Saiss curling a freekick against the woodwork, before Joao Moutinho picked the perfect time to score his first of the season, sending disgruntled United fans heading for the exits eight minutes from time.
Moutinho drilled the most deserved of winners into the bottom corner earned his side a first league victory at Old Trafford since 1980, moving Bruno Lage’s impressive unit up to eight, three points behind United.
“More important than a famous win here is the way we played,” Lage said. “We deserved to score so many more goals. We played with big personality. Top teams have more problems when they don’t have ball.”