WEST BROMWICH ALBION vs MANCHESTER UNITED
06.03.2016

On something of a run, which Van Gaal called “fantastic” (steady more like!), United travelled to The Hawthorns to take advantage of a stuttering top four; a victory would certainly add to the sense that their progress lacks conviction.

PERSONNEL

In: Darmian, Smalling, Carrick and Lingard.
Out: Varela, Fosu-Mensah, Schneiderlin and Memphis.

KEY POINTS

  • Smalling, on his return from injury, played well tracking the runs of WBA’s players, Rondon in particular, across the box.
  • Mata’s sending off didn’t effect WBA’s approach too much; they still sat off United a bit too much.
  • You couldn’t tell that United were playing with 10 men. They held their own, but threatened little. No change there then.
  • The transition from defence to attack was poor, especially in the final third.
  • The change of personnel from the last match, Varela as an example, saw United lose an edge.
  • There was not enough overlapping from the full backs; wide play was weak throughout.

FIRST HALF

With a few players returning United looked a bit more like the pre-youth infused team which provided many supporters with renewed hope. Pace was anticipated in the 4-2-3-1 which contained a front four of Martial, Lingard and Rashford hopefully revolving around Mata. There was confidence that they would challenge the team with the oldest average age in the Premier League.

United's starting shape

United’s starting shape

At the start of the match United’s passing was not snappy enough when in the final third and the emphasis was on the pass back rather than taking it and turning; this was frustrating as WBA were inviting United on through the acres of space they provided.

It wasn’t until the move by Martial in the 17th minute which showed what United needed to do to unlock that stubborn midfield duo of Fletcher and Yacob. This move was quick but it also changed the angle of play through the diagonal pass and move, and oh how did the field open up.

WBA played a 4-4-1-1 and the big fellah Rondon occupied United’s centre backs yet curiously the full backs were allowed to press on further unfettered. The dangerous Berahino sat further back. However, WBA’s main threat came in the form of set pieces, which troubled United, and occasionally long balls from the back to the forward line.

As the half progressed United’s passing wasn’t particularly impressive and this looked unlikely to change. United’s pattern continued unchanged as a number of players had the opportunity to turn and go but the ball was often played back, simply passed in the direction the player was facing. Positivity and creativity was missing.

Then a game changer, Mata lost the plot mid way through the half, receiving two ridiculous yellow cards. A bizarre couple of incidents which stripped United of a link between the midfield duo and the forward line. 26 minutes played and United were down to 10 men.

How would West Brom respond? Their approach had been to block United and use an offensive tactic of the long ball (14 passes between Chester and Rondon said enough). Would United sit deep and invite them on and attempt the counter attack? There was a minor shift in tempo as WBA got over excited as their front two (in their 4-4-1-1) were more adventurous and they encouraged their teammates to push on too. A feature of their play was the diagonal ball to the far post. Their tempo visibly increased after the Mata sending off.

United’s forward line were clearly adrift and man of the moment Rashford wasn’t in the game. Van Gaal moved him to the right and Lingard left with Martial replacing the Mancunian in the middle, United become much flatter as a result. If United were to get anything from the half any out ball to Martial needed to be accurate. With the gap Mata’s departure caused there should have been a much more compact shape about the Reds and if not that at least the centre-backs should have moved further forward by at least 5 yards or so.

It took United a while to recover from the Mata sending off but as the half drew to a close they had stabilized the situation and  were managing.

SECOND HALF

A change at halftime saw Sessegnon moved out to the left as Rashford held a much narrower position with Lingard sitting centrally. As the early moments of the half unfolded both these two players and Martial as well positioned themselves close to each other becoming more proactive. We saw a regular long ball to Martial, which, when he was able to take down he used to attack Olson.

Second half shape

Second half shape

In the 61st minute Schneiderlin came on for Herrera, no doubt to keep an eye on Berahino who was dropping deep and then attacking; he in tandem with Carrick pressed Fletcher and Yacob better; even if this pair were more destructive than creative.

Then West Brom scored after a wide cross managed to get through a packed penalty box and Rondon slammed it home. 66 minutes played 0-1. Two issues with this goal were the space Pocognoli had to make a cross and the poor positioning of Blind. Alarm bells rang earlier when Berahino struck, narrowly missing, as he had plenty of space to attack.

West Brom's goal.

West Brom’s goal.

West Brom manager Pulis now enjoyed a lead and brought Gardner on; Van Gaal needed to respond with an attacking substitution to try and equalise the number of bodies West Brom had in their protective deep shape. He brought Memphis on but shouldn’t have withdrawn Rashford. Memphis made little impact.

The lack of support from the fullbacks was poor, little overlapping into the acres of space in wide areas. United’s challenge meekly petered out.

CONCLUSION

This wasn’t a great game from United’s point of view and it was made worse by the sending off; which left a gap in the connection between midfield and attack. There have been times throughout the season when the front three or four have been cut adrift, even with 11 players on the pitch.

West Brom’s stoic defensive 4-4-2 shape with Fletcher and Yacob sat in front of the centre backs made it hard for United to break them down. There was not enough craft and simply not enough of the ball out wide. Whenit was pushed wide there was poor use of it. This wasn’t helped by the lack of overlapping of the full backs.

Key passes that created chances; United to the left, West Brom to the right

Key passes that created chances; United to the left, West Brom to the right

The game petered out and you couldn’t see United scoring with few chances created. Okay United were down to ten men, but you expect more of an effort, more determination and conviction.