Rob Dawson, CorrespondentAug 14, 2023, 09:29 PM ET

MANCHESTER, England – Could Manchester United be genuine title contenders?

It’s a question that’s been asked all summer and, after 90 minutes against Wolverhampton Wanderers, we’re no nearer an answer.

For most of the night at Old Trafford, Erik ten Hag’s team looked nowhere near but then Aaron Wan-Bissaka flicked the ball into the penalty area and Raphaël Varane -- of all people – headed in a winner.

The 1-0 win probably wasn’t deserved because, at times, the home crowd seemed more determined to will the ball into the net than the players, but they all count and United have started the new Premier League campaign with a win.

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If nothing else, it’s three more points than they had at the same stage last season, when they were well beaten by Brighton & Hove Albion in Ten Hag’s first game in charge.

United, who handed competitive debuts to summer signings André Onana and Mason Mount, at least showed some resilience and an ability to weather a storm, even if a lot of it was by their own design, particularly in ushering waves of yellow shirts through midfield.

Wolves only had five days to prepare under new manager Gary O’Neil following the surprise departure of Julen Lopetegui, but still caused enough of a threat to have 23 shots and six on target. Matheus Cunha hit the post early in the second half and substitute Fábio Silva forced Onana into a late save with his feet.

The Cameroon goalkeeper, signed from Internazionale over the summer, kept a clean sheet on his first Premier League appearance, but had to survive a stoppage-time VAR check after clattering into Sasa Kalajdzic.

It wasn’t a pretty challenge but then it wasn’t a pretty night for United, and if they want to be title challengers they’ve got a funny way of showing it. The celebrations at full-time seemed borne out of relief more than any real joy.

“It was a tough game,” admitted Ten Hag afterwards. “The start is always difficult in a season for every team and I think we can be much better on the ball. We have proven last season and also in preseason, but preseason is not season.

“Opponents are more aggressive, and you see that from Wolves.

“Our skills could be better and decision-making and in the battle, we were not aggressive enough so we can do many things better but I also I see many positive things. We fought for our lives and survived.”

Battling wins at Old Trafford became a theme last season, but so did a lack of cutting edge up front and it was in evidence again here.

With new £72 million striker Rasmus Hojlund in the stands nursing a back injury, the front three of Marcus Rashford, Antony and Alejandro Garnacho struggled to create much of note and United could only muster three shots on target.

“I think the frontline was not in the best form today and we could have made more out of it from the overload situations,” admitted Ten Hag.

“Last week we scored some incredible goals [in a friendly against RC Lens]. This week, it’s the form of the day and we didn’t, but it will come.”

If only United were as ruthless as their manager, who sent another message to Harry Maguire that he’s surplus to requirements.

Stripped of the captaincy in favour of Bruno Fernandes this summer, Casemiro, Scott McTominay and Tom Heaton were all picked to wear the armband ahead of Maguire during preseason when Fernandes was not on the pitch.

United have also accepted a £30m offer from West Ham United and have not ruled out paying up a portion of the defender’s contract at Old Trafford to make sure the move goes through.

Maguire was named on the bench against Wolves but when Ten Hag decided at half-time that Lisandro Martínez had to come off because of an ankle problem and a yellow card hanging over his head, the Dutchman turned to Victor Lindelöf. Ten Hag has said repeatedly that there is a place for Maguire in his squad, but he said the same about Cristiano Ronaldo and David de Gea. The Dutchman has shown during his time at Old Trafford that his actions speak far louder than his words and he couldn’t have made it more obvious that he sees Maguire’s future elsewhere.

The latest snub was watched from the stands by England assistant Steve Holland, and if Maguire wants to keep his place in Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions squad, he will surely have to accept West Ham’s offer.

Maguire’s departure might open the door for Ten Hag to add more new players to his squad before the transfer deadline and after the performance against Wolves, Fiorentina might be adding a few million onto their valuation of Sofyan Amrabat.

Only Chelsea have a higher net spend than United since Ten Hag took over as manager, but it still looks like he’s missing a couple of pieces of the puzzle. The season is up and running and there are points on the board, but whether it will lead to a title charge is still up for debate.