Manchester United 1 West Bromwich Albion 2
United suffered a third league defeat in six matches and a first home reverse of the season to a well-organised West Brom side, who always possessed a threat on the break and gained what was ultimately a deserved victory. Despite that, United will look back at another three points squandered and consider that this was opposition that ought to have been seen off by a side with title aspirations. Not doing so leaves the Reds with only seven points from six games and in the unfamiliar environs of the bottom half of the table.
The first half performance was one that was familiar enough: although West Brom had some dangerous counter-attacks, United looked to be patiently edging their way towards the kind of victory in third gear that so often preceded an away European trip in recent years. The Reds had the bulk of possession, despite creating little of note, and it seemed it was only a matter of time before they converted time on the ball into chances. However, West Brom’s pressing game became more effective as the game wore on and the warning signs were there for United as the two clearest chances of the first half fell to the visitors, in the form of a Berahino header and a ballooned shot from Sessegnon.
After the break United’s play became increasingly edgy. Despite Januzaj impressing again after replacing Kagawa at half-time, attempts to step up our game simply led to more space for West Brom to operate in and they used it well, taking the lead after 54 minutes when Amalfitano finished off a fine solo run with an excellent finish to beat the helpless De Gea. United responded well and were level again within three minutes, a Rooney free kick from the left evading everyone in the area and squeezing inside the far post. It might have been expected that West Brom would anticipate an onslaught from the home team at this point and settle for a draw but, to their credit, they continued to create problems and regained the lead with a superb twenty yard effort from Berahino.
One of the reasons for United’s poor form in so many games this season is that Michael Carrick isn’t influencing games from midfield the way he did last season. The Baggies’ pressing left him struggling again and, with Anderson alongside him in midfield, United continued to lack creative initiative in the middle of the field and, with the main attacking outlet involving searching balls to the erratic Nani, our play lacked pace and imagination and was predictable enough for West Brom to anticipate and counteract the majority of United moves with ease. I wonder what the odds are with bookies like Coral for United to win the league after our terrible start..
The Reds dominated possession from that point, surging forward for the win but ultimately creating few clear cut chances. Fellaini put the ball over the line but it the goal correctly ruled out for offside. Nani began to carry more of a threat as United chased the game and there will be some consolation that, again, Januzaj was a constant handful for the West Brom defence. In the final reckoning, however, the away team undeniably deserved their victory and United will look back again not just on another defeat, but at a performance so often characterised by anxiety and an inability to pass and move with any urgency in a performance that led, once again, to yet another match in which we failed to score from open play and looked anything but title challengers.