As you were. Manchester United and Wolverhampton Wanderers both passed up a chance to gain ground on fourth-place and remain level on points after a rather predictable goalless draw at Old Trafford, where neither one of these two contenders for a place next season’s Champions League did enough to take all three points.
Even the full debut of Bruno Fernandes, days after his much-anticipated €55m arrival from Sporting Clube de Portugal, could not help United capitalise Chelsea’s draw away at Leicester earlier on Saturday. Fernandes was a tidy presence in United’s midfield butt played deeper than expected. Several of his trademark attempts from long-range came up short.
After a week which saw executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward’s home attacked with flares and fireworks, some United fans had organised for a mass walk-out on the 68th minute to escalate protests against the Glazer ownership. It did not materialise, or at least not on any notable scale, even though the rather dour contest gave them every reason to leave.
That this ended goalless should not be a surprise. This was already the third meeting between these two sides of 2020 and their sixth in the past 12 months. Of the previous five, three were won by a single goal and the other two ended level. A couple of those games were atrocious spectacles. This was not much better.
The greatest source of excitement was Fernandes, whose first touch of the ball in a United shirt after 40 seconds sent a ripple of delight around Old Trafford. The Portugal international began in an advanced role, playing off centre-forward Anthony Martial, though slowly regressed further back until lining up alongside Fred at the base of United’s midfield.
This did not stop him from testing compatriot Rui Patricio from range. A deflected Luke Shaw cross sat up perfectly for him five minutes before the interval but his strike was well held. A free-kick at the start of the second half was awarded in a similarly promising position. Fernandes’s strike was hard and destined for the top left-hand corner but, again, Patricio denied him.
A fairytale start to Fernandes’s Old Trafford career would have been unfair on Wolves, in any case. Nuno Espirito Santo’s visitors shaded this contest, with Adama Traoré’s close control and Raul Jimenez’s movement two constant threats. They were unfortunate that their best chance fell to Romain Saiss, the makeshift centre-half, who headed over from a free-kick in the closing stages.
United’s best chance, meanwhile, came to the only other Portuguese player in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first-team squad and the young man tasked with helping Fernandes settle in over the last few days. Diogo Dalot was introduced as a substitute with two minutes remaining but, in the final seconds of stoppage time, could only divert Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s cross narrowly wide of goal.
The result now leaves both behind Sheffield United. Chris Wilder’s side may be newly-promoted but they must now be considered part of the mini-race to displace Chelsea and claim a Champions League spot, particularly if this is the best that the two leading contenders at the start of the day can manage.