Manchester United dropped more points to a poor Premier League side as West Brom comfortably took a draw at the Hawthorns.
Bruno Fernandes – as ever – showed a moment of inspiration to save his side from further embarrassment, but his teammates were unable to raise themselves to match the standard, and were fortunate to get away with a point.
Less than ninety seconds had passed when West Brom got a lead; United’s defenders seemed needlessly deep, and Lindelof found himself bullied in his own six yard box as Diagne muscled in front of him as if he wasn’t there to plant a header past De Gea.
If Lindelof was culpable, he hadn’t been helped by Fred, acting as that defensive midfield screen but once again proving to be less effective as someone capable of sensing danger than breaking play up.
It was hardly an unfamiliar position for United to be in on the road this season. But in Sam Allardyce, the Baggies had a boss who was as predictable as his reputation suggests, and unapologetic with it. Physically attack the defenders, defend deep, allow crosses from wide and trust you can deal with it so long as your concentration is good.
The approach was working. United have improved under Solskjaer but still have issues unlocking tight defences through players other than Bruno Fernandes – and Fernandes was isolated in the middle, not in the game as often as the visitors would have liked. United were offering little from wide or through the middle.
What they needed was something different, and that came a minute before the break – what Allardyce hadn’t accounted for was Maguire pushing up with the ball. It created the slim opening for United to exploit. Shaw was able to cross from a more dangerous and less speculative position; it was hit into an area for Cavani, but was too high for him. Not for Fernandes, though, who was lurking in the perfect position and struck a perfect volley to level things up.
In the 62nd minute, Maguire was brought down in the box and a penalty was awarded; it did seem soft, and the decision was overturned after a VAR check, but the United defender did seem as though he was offside anyway.
Greenwood was brought on for Martial, whose run off the pitch was the most active he seemed all afternoon. The difference the change made was immediate; from a corner, Greenwood had an effort saved, and McTominay’s shot on the rebound was cleared off the line. There finally seemed to be a greater urgency.
With that came risk – the hosts twice had extremely promising positions, first wasting the pass in a strong area and the Diagne, after shrugging Maguire off, was unable to put a golden chance past De Gea. With three minutes to go, Diagne was behind a desperate, and missed, Lindelof lunge, but fired his shot over.
Deep into injury time, Harry Maguire headed against the post – the only real opening since the McTominay effort.
That was it – United pushed the hosts back, but they were more than happy to defend on the edge of their six yard box with Solskjaer’s side never really showing the requisite quality and then adding a frantic end to the game – with patience out of the window, United were never composed enough to unduly concern their opponent.
Even at United’s best this season, their wins have normally been narrow – eight by a single goal. Allardyce’s tactics may be archaic and outdated but United, not for the first time this season, paid a heavy price for their lack of killer instinct and urgency.
How far away are we from this being Solskjaer’s strongest selection from this squad? Eric Bailly was back after injury but Lindelof started and even if the Swede is largely unconvincing, neither is it a largely compelling argument that Bailly is such an upgrade.
United can rescue results but they can’t pretend goals don’t count and it is obvious that fewer goals conceded makes for an increased chances of winning trophies.
Getting the chemistry right in the front players is a difficult process; Pogba was injured so missed out, and Rashford was played from the right with Martial on the left. In the context of where we are, it seemed as if Solskjaer was picking what worked in the moment, and that is a concern – if Cavani is currently accepted as the number one striker, then Rashford’s best position should be from the left, and it feels as if the manager is making choices to keep players happy rather than to be critical and clinical. He is ultimately culpable, as playing Martial and moving Rashford out of position to do so is a waste of two outlets.
De Gea 6
Van De Beek
— United Goals ⚽️ (@UnitedGoals__) February 14, 2021