Manchester United suffered a third straight Premier League defeat after a 1-0 loss against a resilient West Bromwich Albion side at Old Trafford. The sluggish Red Devils were restricted to long range efforts for the majority of the game as the Baggies chose to sit deep and allow United to pass the ball in front of them. Robin van Persie missed United’s best chance as his tame penalty was saved by West Brom goalkeeper Boaz Myhill.
In one of their few ventures forward, West Brom managed to win a free kick thanks to a clumsy Paddy McNair challenge and Chris Brunt’s powerful effort cannoned off Jonas Olsson and into the top corner. It was all Tony Pulis’ side needed as they held on the claim a priceless victory and blow the door back open for Liverpool in the race for the top four. United are four points clear of their rivals with three games remaining.
1) United fail to create enough clear cut chances
It was a day of frustration at Old Trafford as United were stifled constantly by a well-oiled, determined Baggies side. Tony Pulis came with a game-plan, similar to that of Everton last week without as much technical ability or speed on the counter attack. West Brom were exceptionally set up and even with under 30% of the ball, they were able to look comfortable during sustained periods of United possession.
For the Red Devils it was a truly shocking performance. They may have controlled the ball but there were nowhere near enough penetration or clear cut chances created. United were restricted to long range shooting and were on the receiving end of a masterclass from Myhill in the Baggies goal. Van Persie’s penalty miss proved costly but in truth, United did not make enough clear chances against a mediocre West Brom team.
2) Van Gaal’s 4-3-3 has been found out – no goals in three games is a major worry
It was all looking rosy before the defeat to Chelsea but three straight defeats have seen zero goals scored for United. The 4-3-3 system which served Louis van Gaal so well in the impressive victories over Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester City has been found out and teams are allowing United to have the majority of possession because they know they will struggled to break down teams who give them little space in the final third.
There are not enough numbers in between the opposition defence and midfield or in the box looking to get on the end of crosses. To add to United’s woes, they look susceptible to counter attacks at all times and West Brom’s winner came as a result of a sloppy tackle from McNair when Chris Smalling was on the cover. But despite conceding this goal, United should be outscoring teams like West Brom at home even if they do concede. The lack of goals is a major worry.
3) Van Persie looks lively on his return but misses a key penalty
Van Persie looked lively on his return to the side and was United’s biggest goal threat throughout the 90 minutes. He had several snapshots which either narrowly missed the goal or were saved by Myhill, who had the best performance of his career and was my man of the match. The Dutchman’s movement was improved but did look rusty when given an opportunity. His long range strike in the final moments could easily have gone in on another day.
However, the key moment in the match was the penalty which saw Wayne Rooney hand the responsibility over to Van Persie. The Dutchman has scored vital penalties before but struck this one at the perfect height for a goalkeeper to save and not in the corner. It was a moment which could have changed the game and see United go onto claim all three points. Despite a good display, Van Persie cost United here and they will be hoping they will not look back on that moment as crucial in the race for the top four.
4) Di Maria looks a shadow of his former self
The stage was set for United’s record signing, Di Maria, to come off the bench and change the game for the better. However, it did not work out that way as the Argentine looked a shadow of his former electrifying self. He consistently delivered crosses straight at the goalkeeper or over the crossbar and his first touch was all over the place. Di Maria looks a shadow of his former, Champions League winning self.
The former Real Madrid midfield looks devoid of all confidence. With United fans on his back, Di Maria is failing to live up to expectations, which is a great shame as he is a world class talent who can make the difference at Old Trafford and is one of the few who consistently attempts the unpredictable. In order to help him find his form, he needs the fans to get behind him, rather than get on his back. Had the long ranger which Myhill brilliantly tipped over had gone in, we would be sitting here praising him rather than scapegoating his cameo off the bench.
5) At least five summer signings are needed, six if De Gea leaves
The need for reinforcements this summer is so obvious now. After the win over City, the team looked in fantastic shape and it was difficult to see who could possibly be on their way out this summer. Now, the cracks we saw earlier in the season are back and inconsistency like this is unacceptable at a club like United. There are too many average players still at the club and at least five new signings are needed, six if David De Gea opts to leave the club.
The priority is obviously in the defensive areas of the team. A new central defensive partner for Chris Smalling is necessary, as is a natural right-back who can come in for the make-shift Antonio Valencia. In midfield, United need a long-term Michael Carrick replacement desperately whilst another winger would also be handy. The Red Devils could also do with a quick and lively striker up top who is willing to stretch defences. There is plenty of work to do in the summer months.