WEST BROMWICH ALBION VS MANCHESTER UNITED
08.03.2014

After defeat in Greece, United returned to domestic action and a league game at struggling West Bromwich Albion. With a number of games coming up in the month ahead against teams above United in the table United really need to win here.

PERSONNEL

In: Rafael, Jones, Mata, Fellaini and Januzaj.
Out: Ferdinand, Vidic, Valencia, Cleverley and Young.

KEY POINTS

  • United enjoyed a comfortable win here, but in truth this was not a great performance. The score line flattered United; West Brom were very poor and on this display will struggle to avoid relegation.
  • Jones scored the opening goal with a good header from a free kick. This was perhaps ironic as he generally looked indecisive in defence. A couple of shaky moments, particularly early in the game could and perhaps would have been costly against a more accomplished side.
  • Despite the general ordinariness of the performance all three United goals were well work. The problem was that this was in stark contrast the rest of United’s play.
  • Van Persie had an off-day. He looked frustrated when he was substituted (to ensure he avoided a second booking) and United’s attacking play looked more convincing once he had been replaced by Welbeck.

FIRST HALF

United started this game in a 4-4-1-1 shape with Fellaini and Carrick positioned centrally in midfield. Mata was narrow on the right and Januzaj slightly wider on the left. Rooney started behind van Perise. West Brom were a 4-5-1, transforming to a 4-3-3, (usually lob sided), when they came forward.

1st half United in the first half

The game started at a fairly sedate pace with neither side taking the initiative, although United did their best to hand the initiative to West Brom with indecision at the back. On several occasions a fairy lame West Brom attack broke down and United with time to pass or clear the ball out of defence were slow to do so which allowed the home side time to close down and on occasions win the ball back. The chief culprit here was Jones who looked very hesitant. Three times in the opening 15 minutes he was slow to clear the ball and lost possession in his own third.

Despite this when United didn’t offer West Brom any help they looked fairly toothless and the half soon settled into a pattern. West Brom sat deep. United therefore as in their previous game in Greece had plenty of the ball. Carrick and Fellaini both stayed deep and United relied upon Evra and Rafael to push forward as Januzaj and Mata tucked inside. Rafael particularly found plenty of space on the right.

In the middle of the park United offered very little creatively. Carrick and Fellaini both remained in front of the defence with only Fellaini occasionally pushing forward. Fellaini performance here was particularly disappointing. He did push further forward than Carrick but he tended to chase the ball, sell himself and as such allowed the opposition to play around him. When in possession it is clear that he doesn’t have quick feet and is slow to get his pass away. Much of his passing here was square. Perhaps he needs more time to settle at the club and his first season has been disrupted with injuries, but he looks a plodder when played in the deep and his lack of quick feet mean that he is not an effective operator higher up the pitch when the ball is on the deck.

United crossing

United crosses – mostly over hit

The most creative moment in the early stages came when Carrick picked out van Persie with a pass through the inside left channel, but this came to nothing. Generally United’s play was pretty uninspired with a lot of sideways passing; the quality of crosses was generally poor. Most of these were looped crosses with no whip. West Brom’s central defenders were untroubled. United regularly crossed the ball towards the far post from where the cross was then headed back to no one in particular.

Then from a free kick United scored. A foul on Rafael allowed van Persie the opportunity to deliver a whipped cross from the right. Jones rose ahead of everyone having come to the right and headed firmly home. The West Brom back line simply failed to jump. This was bad defending, but a well take delivery and header from United. Boom! The goal came after 33 minutes.

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Jones goal – Tell you what, lets not jump!

Little changed after the goal and United and West Brom plodded on to halftime with the score 0-1 to United at the break.

SECOND HALF

The second half was much like the first. United were very casual, almost lethargic. Much of the passing was from side to side and the build up play generally slow. Van Persie, who wasn’t really in the game, was booked after 55 minutes for a two footed tackle, (he actually got the ball), but looked frustrated with the lack of service, which was generally as a consequence of the slow build up and lack of forward passing. Rooney who similarly wasn’t in the game that much drifted to the right with Mata coming to a more central position. Then after second rash challenge Moyes removed van Persie and replaced him with Welbeck on 62 minutes.

Almost at once United scored again! Boom! This time the goal came from free play with a well worked move on the right. Rooney fed Mata left to right, who fed Rafael with a clever pass. Rafael delivered a good cross to the far post and Rooney headed solidly home. The cross made the goal but the pass from Mata created the space and time for Rafael to ensure a quality delivery. United were two goals to the good, both headers from crosses. Those who bemoan United’s reliance on crossing might consider that this demonstrates it’s the quality of the crossing that is the issue and not always the quantity.

United’s forward play now seemed brighter after this goal. Is this confidence or the quality of Welbeck’s movement? Rooney and Welbeck both played high positions with Rooney t the right and Welbeck to the left. Both were fairly mobile across the line however. Then on 76 minutes United removed Januzaj and introduced Kagawa. Kagawa moved central and Rooney moved over to the left. Januzaj had had a fairly quiet game throughout. He had stayed fairly wide for most of the game and had often seemed isolated out on the touchline.

late 2nd half United late in the game

On 82 minutes United scored again. Boom! This time Welbeck scored. This was a good goal scored after 29 short passes. United playing Tiki-taki? Finally Rooney fed Welbeck in the inside left channel, the defender missed his tackle and Welbeck was in wide on the left. It was still a difficult angle to score from but he calmly beat Foster in the West Brom goal.

On 87 minutes Vidic replace Rafael.

It finished 0-3.

CONCLUSION

This was a very ordinary performance from United and the score line flattered them. But that doesn’t matter if it helps to build confidence for more testing games to come.

A fairly unremarkable performance so let’s just move on.