WEST BROM VS MANCHESTER UNITED
A much changed United team for Sir Alex’s last game travelled to the Hawthorns for the final fixture in this championship winning season on a glorious mid May Sunday.
Out: De Gea, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Scholes, Welbeck
In: Lindegaard, Buttner, Anderson, Cleverley, Valencia, Evans
- Valencia at right back outlined the need to attack from deep
- Rigidity of West Brom’s formation in the first half was baffling particularly in light of the space left available on the wings
- Anticipation of the first ball by United was pleasing
- Two pivots; Carrick and Kagawa were key to United’s early success
- The introduction of Lukaku and the improved performance from Mulumbu changed everything
The game started in a lively fashion, befitting the occasion; there was so much movement and flexibility in United’s play. Their 4-3-1-2 with Jones and Evans splitting and Carrick occupied the central spot saw Buttner and more so Valencia push on and take advantage of the space West Brom left due to their narrow shape.
BOOM! Five minutes in and United initially looked in some trouble on the left hand side corner of their box but a series of passes, no more than five yards in length, quickly negated any threat. The transfer was swift and simple. Buttner moved forward without a hint of a strong challenge and swept a raking ball out to Hernandez, who was likewise allowed ample room to whip in a cross to the diminutive Japanese maestro Kagawa, to make it 1-0!
BOOM! Nine minutes in and the space between the West Brom defenders and midfielders was exploited by both Kagawa and Anderson. This was quite shocking and Clarke seemed unwilling or unable to change the flow. United eased through the gears too make it 2-0.
Kagawa and Carrick were fundamental in this half. Both were mobile; the ends of the thread tying the team together from the back to the front. Carrick, flanked by Anderson and Cleverley often dropped into the central defensive zone, left vacant as Evans and Jones split moving into the space left by United’s fullbacks. Whilst Kagawa saw himself with a great deal of space and was instrumental in feeding the ball out wide, often to Valencia or Hernandez who was more involved than our favourite Dutchman.
BOOM! 3-0 by the thirty minute mark and United looked very much in control. Cleverley found himself high up the pitch as United’s shape ebbed and flowed around the 4-3-1-2. In this instance United were overpowering and occupied space in the West Brom half. The hosts were set up as a 4-4-2 but it was difficult to see this, they were rigid but were dragged from their positions regularly. Perhaps they had listened to the demise of United’s width to closely thus setting up in a narrow manner!
However, United switched off! Buttner had the screws turned on him for the first time, the first time any United player had experienced pressure in fact and this led to Morrison scoring for Albion and blotting what was otherwise an impeccable first half by United.
West Brom brought on Lukaku as part of their 4-4-2 formation with the aim to become more direct. The loanee encapsulated West Brom’s step up in performance. United’s full backs were now pressed back much more as West Brom were more disciplined and Mulumbu played a part in the resurgence.
West Brom gained a foothold in the game with Lukaku’s goal coming as a result of his maximization of the space in front of Valencia. Like the space in front of West Brom’s defence in the first half, United showed similar indiscipline. Lukaku cut in and scored a shot which you feel a Lindegaard with more games under his belt would have saved.
BOOM! United scored a fourth through van Persie who’d hardly had a chance on goal thus far but it was a goal from the wing taken centrally; a continual theme throughout.
United made a substitution on the 60th minute, Giggs for Cleverley, and perhaps this wasn’t surprising as he’d faded out of the game and hadn’t responded to West Brom’s reduction of the threat from Buttner particularly through Mulumbu. Giggs afforded greater protection on the left.
BOOM! Goal 5. Started from a majestic crossfield ball by Carrick picking out Kagawa who fed Giggs, whose energy and width had given United a further dimension, posted it to Hernandez. Nothing more than the hardworking Mexican deserved.
Kagawa faded and was much more more static than fluid in the second half as West Brom played higher and more compact in front of their defence. So as has been the case this season he was replaced two thirds into the game. Scholes came on and solidified United’s progression to a 4-4-2.
The descendancy from a comfortable victory to a comical draw must be attributed to the change Steve Clarke made with Lukaku leading the line and Mulumbu cutting in from the right and occupying the space between midfield and defence whilst also seizing upon Buttner’s poor positioning.
Both defences were troubled; Albion’s through the fluidity and flexibility of United’s movement. Whilst United’s was, one due to the comfort a 3-0 lead afforded them but then by the sheer power of Lukaku and Mulumbu. Buttner was exposed for his defensive weaknesses whilst Lindegaard’s performance deserved greater scrutiny, maybe expected due to his lack of game time.
The first half was special because of the flexible set up of Carrick and Kagawa. This showed how United tied up the middle and broke down the transition out wide to the marauding full backs. The ineptitude of West Brom’s performance no doubt contributed to United’s fine performance.
The game was topsy turvy yet was enjoyable, had this not been the last game of a championship winning season things may be different, but then that wouldn’t be United.
Thank you Sir Alex!