After the match on Wednesday against Newcastle, this match looked almost scripted.
Manchester United Starting XI:
Smalling – Vidic – Evans – Evra
Carrick – Cleverley
Valencia – Kagawa – Young
West Brom Starting XI:
Jones – McAuley – Tamas – Ridgewell
Thorne – Brunt
Rosenburg – Dorrans – Odemwingie
Before we get to the match I have to say that I did learn that managers in the Barclay’s Premier League aren’t any better story tellers than coaches in the NFL. You can never believe an NFL coach, especially just before the draft, and in this case I’m having a bit of a problem buying what Sir Alex was selling yesterday just before the January transfer window opens:
“I’m not looking to do any serious transfer business in January. I don’t have to because I am more than satisfied with the players I have in my squad, a group as good as any I have had in my time at Old Trafford.”
He may be satisfied for this year, but there are some serious holes on this squad, especially in the back four. And there have been several rumors that Paul Scholes really is going to make this his final year, and a couple that have Ryan Giggs joining him. With all of the rumors surrounding Robert Lewandowski, Victory Wanyama, and Leighton Baines (to name a few), it’s hard to believe Sir Alex won’t, at the very least, have an inquiring mind this January.
Now to the pitch. And speaking of the pitch, Old Trafford had to be inspected twice by officials to verify the pitch was playable as the rainiest year in England since they started keeping records continued to take its toll. They did allow the match to go on, but it was a glue pot, as the old timers would say, that affected the play of both sides. Luckily, United adjusted to the conditions much better than the Baggies.
In a way you have to feel a little sorry for West Brom. After the last two outings for United, they were due for a match like this. I also suspect that Sir Alex lit the Devils up in a meeting sometime since Wednesday because the they came out all business today. If you wanted to script a match that was needed for United after the past week you would want them to score early, work their ass off on defense, and then seal it with a second goal sometime in the second half on the way to a rare 2012/13 clean sheet.
Sir Alex came up with yet another interesting staring XI, though not as explicitly weak in the midfield or defensive back four as on Wednesday. In fact, Vidic started his first game at Old Trafford since September. I don’t know if it was his presence (and with him gone so long I’d forgotten how calming an influence he can be back there) or just having a more focused emphasis on defense. Whatever it was, it worked. With Rooney still unavailable and van Persie needing a bit of a breather, SAF’s starters included Welbeck and Kagawa, the latter of whom returned for the first time since October after his knee injury. Although neither scored, both were very active. Welbeck put almost continuous pressure on the Baggies net, and Kagawa showed some of his passing brilliance throughout the match.
Early on it was obvious that West Brom had watched the Newcastle match, and they tried to emulate what they had seen and attack United. Early on it appeared United were in for another day of continuous attacking pressure, but those plans went awry nine minutes in.
From the part of the script that called for an early goal: Young and Kagawa played a sweet little give-and-go, at the end of which Young fired low and hard into the area. Good things happen when you get the ball into the box, as they say, and Gareth McAuley did all he could to stick a leg out to try and block Young’s cross. Unfortunately for McAuley, however, his deflection sent the ball past Foster into his own net. It surprises me that this type of goal isn’t scored more often, honestly. It would have been a tall task for any defender to get a good foot on Young’s close, pacey cross.
And just like that West Brom gave up their plan of attack. It was actually rather astounding how fast they completely abandoned their offensive pressure. They just did not show the intestinal fortitude that Newcastle had on Wednesday to continue the attack regardless of the score, and instead opted to fall back behind the mid-line and defend. They gave the United midfielders way too much space and allowed them to dictate play the rest of the half. United had 80% possession in the first 20 minutes and 70% for the first half; De Gea was rendered inconsequential.
The United back four got to play a little defense in the second half as West Brom cranked up the pressure. The possession for the second half was basically 50-50, and the Baggies were much better organized in their attack – yet the United defense did not crack. This was that part of the script that called for the United defense to work its ass off, and boy did they. Again, Vidic’s presence had a lot to do with the defensive solidarity on Saturday. If he can stay healthy, the United net will not be nearly as leaky in the second half of the season. Vidic will be vital for the run in if United are to regain the Premier League title.
RVP replaced Kagawa in the 65th minute as Shinji was never expected to put in a full 90. He put a shot on goal in the 82nd that, had it had any loft at all, would have scored easily. He did get his obligatory goal in the 91st, however, with a vintage van Persie strike. His curling, finessed effort saw the ball bend just out of Foster’s reach and set him a goal clear atop the scoring list.
Final Score: Manchester United 2, West Brom 0.
Manchester Scorecard (0-10)
Nemanja Vidic & Jonny Evans, 8 – are my men of the match. This may have been the hardest match to date to call a MOTM as it was the quintessential “team effort”, but Evans and Vidic provided outstanding defensive support and were the major cog in the clean sheet.
Carrick, Cleverley, 8 – were as good in the midfield as Vidic and Evans were in defense. Carrick again showed terrific touch with his passes and played, as he has virtually all year long, error-free football.
Young, Kagawa, Welbeck, 7 – Young forced the first goal with a blast into the area, Kagawa provided numerous chances with his deft passing, and Welbeck kept Foster uncomfortable with his continuous runs and pressure.
van Persie, 7 – although a late substitute, Robin put immense pressure on the Baggie net and added the exclamation point in injury time.
De Gea, 7 – as is true in almost all the matches where the defense played well, De Gea was solid but not spectacular. Then again. he didn’t need to be spectacular with the defense that was in front of him today.
Valencia, Evra, Smalling, 6 – a solid match from each. Evra in particular concentrated on his defensive assignment and did not get caught too far forward as he has in many matches this campaign. Valencia and Smalling were solid throughout as well. Valencia is still searching for last year’s form that saw him voted player of the year by his United peers; he continues to work hard in the meantime and solidify his spot on the wing.
The Bottom Line: United can play defense as was shown today in no uncertain terms. If they commit to this kind of defensive intensity and organization here on out, it will be a tough task for City to make up their current seven point deficit.