Manchester United claimed a narrow victory over West Bromwich Albion; though Bruno Fernandes’ penalty did not paper over any cracks, as the result was as unconvincing as the performance.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was in need of a good performance and a strong result but really got neither, with a messy spell at the start of the second half proving decisive in another poor Old Trafford game.
It took 15 mins to create a good opening – Maguire brought the ball forward, played Rashford wide, he played the ball into Fernandes who laid the ball off for Martial. The Frenchman’s shot was well saved by Sam Johnstone but a top striker ought to have done better in that position. The bottom line is world class strikers take chances like the one presented to him.
Ten minutes later there was another piece of evidence for those who are frustrated by the former Monaco man when he felt a slight tug on his shirt and threw himself to the ground looking for a penalty. Perhaps he had a point in this feather touch era but frankly it looked embarrassing, especially as he had the ball in a decent position and ought to have done much better.
Shortly after that he was slow to react – and offside – when Mata showed fine anticipation to read a Fernandes pass. It’s not so much that he doesn’t have talent, he clearly does, but perhaps he’s just better suited to coming in from the left and so switching with Rashford if not being dropped for Cavani. Despite his obvious talent he seems ill-fitting at times for this United team, in much the same way that talented strikers like Ruud van Nistelrooy and Romelu Lukaku were.
This grumble doesn’t put Martial as the biggest culprit; Solskjaer’s apprehensive line up led to a ponderous first half, and even if you could see the argument for why it was necessary considering how poor United’s home form has been, it is surely anathema to any tradition of the club to line up in such a fashion against one of the poorest teams in the league who have yet to win a game.
A minute into the second half, West Brom had an attack and won a penalty when Bruno Fernandes was adjudged to have fouled Gallagher; the referee changed his mind on checking the replay, clearly judging that Fernandes’ winning of the ball made the contact a matter of a 50/50 challenge.
United were fortunate. Their luck was seemingly in in the 53rd minute when Mata’s cross was handled in the box; but Solskjaer’s team have a habit of messing up their fortune, as they did when Fernandes’ kick was saved. Johnstone, though, was off his line – so the kick was retaken and Fernandes now scored, though the home side could scarcely say their blushes were spared.
Bruno Fernandes goal. ⚽#mufc 1-0
— UTFR 🇾🇪 (@ManUtd_HQ) November 21, 2020
In the 65th minute, Callum Robinson struck the bar with a fine effort for the visitors; United responded with the best chance of their own, but Rashford’s effort was brilliantly stopped by Johnstone (though again, the United striker ought to have done much better). Maguire was the next to test the former United keeper; but Johnstone again was equal to it.
United had one more decent chance – Martial doing well in injury time to turn but Furlong, culpable for that earlier penalty, redeemed himself with a fine tackle.
A win is a win is a win but with pressure mounting, Solskjaer needs wins to be better than this, and defeating one of the worst teams in the division in such an underwhelming fashion is not likely to appease any of that pressure.
United aren’t exactly in the business of being able to afford a fussy attitude to home wins at the moment but this was not the sort of outing that inspired the thought that a strong improvement is around the corner.
It was a team that most couldn’t complain with, save for the possible selection of Cavani and Van De Beek from the start. But you do have to allow the manager to pick the side he wants to pick and we have to always remember that this isn’t a vintage squad with a very clear and obvious starting eleven.
Starting elevens aren’t picked by social media – thank God! – and the managers, for better or worse, are judged on their choices. It remains to be seen whether Pogba was actually carrying a knock or if this is part of the phasing out procession we’ve seen many times.
What you could argue with is picking two holding midfielders although United’s porous home form – remember, they could have easily shipped five against Crystal Palace – perhaps necessitated some caution. Keep in mind a simple fact, as negative as the selection was – this United team have proven themselves to not be good enough to be trusted. Within that dilemma comes a process of how Solskjaer will build his team in whatever time he has left, because what we know is that there is not an obvious first choice anymore.
The big point was about Paul Pogba’s omission, although we’ll have to take it on face value that he was injured. Was it a convincing argument for life without him? No. Was his absence a convincing and compelling enough argument that he would improve what we saw? Also no. And so the issues remain – as does the feeling that we’re still in a dire situation where one defeat invites another feeling of disaster.
De Gea 6
Van De Beek