Manchester United Shortcomings Exposed By Relegation-Threatened West Brom
For the fourth time in their last five Premier League outings, Manchester United have thrown points away and been found wanting against, at least on paper, inferior opposition.
After inexplicably losing at home to Sheffield United in late January, United went on to draw 0-0 away to an injury-ravaged Arsenal, as well as turning three points into one at home to Everton.
There was the 9-0 mauling of Southampton, an anomaly in what has been a strange season.
Today, United’s shortcomings were once again exposed by a side deep in relegation trouble, as West Brom took the lead in the second minute and could be disappointed not to have scored more and put three points in their back pocket.
For all the progress that has been made under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and there has been progress both on the pitch and off it, there are still several glaring holes in the squad that will need attention if the red half of Manchester are to bridge the canyon-sized gap to their rivals in blue.
Since joining United for a fee in the region of £80 million, a world record fee for a defender, Harry Maguire has failed to replicate the form he displayed at the 2018 World Cup.
In the Englishman’s defence, the lack of a strong partner has not helped his cause.
Eric Bailly could be a world-class defender and the duo could make a solid rear guard for United to build from, but his woeful injury record means he cannot be relied upon for the rigours of a title challenge.
At times Victor Lindelöf has shown glimpses of becoming a solid defensive partner, but his lack of physical presence, on show again at The Hawthorns, make United vulnerable to conceding from crosses.
Solskjaer has talked of needing a new centre back, and he must demand reinforcement in the next transfer window.
Dayot Upamecano, a target in last summer’s window, is now off the market having agreed to join Bayern Munich. Yet another in the ever-growing list of transfer market missteps from Executive Vice-Chairman Ed Woodward.
Identifying the next best option should be United’s top priority heading towards the next transfer window. United’s title-winning teams were always built on a solid back four, and one only needs to glance across to the other side of Manchester to see what a strong defence can do, as City look to pull off an unprecedented Quadruple.
While United didn’t do enough to come away with three points against West Brom, the Red Devils can look to several key moments that went against them.
Mbaye Diagne man handled Lindelof to score the opener, the goal allowed to stand despite United’s protestations.
Referee Craig Pawson blew for halftime with United on the attack, stopping any hope of an equaliser in its tracks.
A penalty was awarded in the second half for a foul on Harry Maguire, which was then overturned by VAR.
And finally, former United player Sam Johnstone tipped a goal-bound effort from Maguire onto the post to cap off a miserable night for everyone in red.
After the match, the usual up-beat manager didn’t mince his words, stating United simply weren’t good enough on the night.
“[The performance?] Not worthy of three points. We didn’t do enough to win the game. To earn three points in the Premier League always requires a lot of things – quality, tempo, attitude. We’ve got the right attitude and the work-rate is there. We just didn’t have the quality in the last moments to have the right cross or be in the right place to tap it in.”
“You know, when Harry’s goal against Burnley is disallowed, that is more of a foul [Mbaye Diagne’s challenge on Victor Lindelof for the opening goal]. But, as a striker, I don’t like to see any of those goals taken away. But we want some consistency. It’s definitely more of a foul than what Harry did to the Burnley lad. It would be harsh to lose a goal like this but both of them should have stood for me. I’ve not looked at it again, I just saw it live and have not seen it. Consistency is what we need and it was definitely more of a foul than what Harry did against the Burnley lad. The VAR decision [on United’s penalty]? It’s a foul – as clear as day but he’s offside as well. I think the lad in the VAR room must be asleep [laughs] as he’s not even clocked that he’s off. Consistency and clarity is what we all want and that was a strange moment.”
“It’s a good save by Sam [at the death]. I thought we were going to score just before half-time on the break, three versus one but then he blows the whistle and that was a big moment for us.”
“The attitude is right. I have seen the focus, the work the coaches have done and the focus and their attitude is right. I cannot fault it at all. It’s about the quality in games. It doesn’t matter in the Premier League, if you play the fifth team, the 18th team or the 10th team. You’ve got to produce quality in the big moments. We just lacked that little bit of ruthlessness and clinical finishing. Definitely,” said Solskjaer.
A disappointing evening was punctuated by a moment of brilliance from Bruno Fernandes, who equalised with a stunning strike. One wonders where United would be were it not for the Portuguese playmakers form since joining from Sporting Lisbon 12 months ago.
“It’s fantastic and also fantastic play because we built pressure and kept playing and playing and playing. We didn’t give the ball away and it was a great cross by Luke [Shaw]. It was great technique by Bruno. They defended well, take nothing away from the defending, or Sam’s save at the end. We had to produce more quality and more magic than we did,” added the manager.
United’s run of results away from Old Trafford continued, but Solskjaer expects more from his team against sides languishing in the bottom half of the table.
“At the moment, that record doesn’t mean anything. We are in desperate need for three points. We want to move up the table and you don’t do that by getting one point away from home. Of course, it’s a disappointing outcome today. Then again, some of our play was really good and some of our performances were really good. There are some positives but, overall, we’re disappointed with only one point,” concluded the manager.
While United fans take heart from Liverpool putting up the worst title defence in the history of the Premier League, celebrating another teams shortcomings isn’t the United way.
With Leicester hitting their straps and Chelsea finally looking like a team who invested £150 million in the summer, United will need to ensure they find their match-winning form again – fast – if they don’t want to be drawn into a battle for fourth with the defending champions.