Things at Old Trafford did not go as per United’s plans as the hosts capitulated to another defeat going down 1-0 to Tony Pulis’ resolute Baggies. The defeat marks the first time United have lost 3 games in a row since December 2001 as well as 8 years since they failed to score in three Premier League games in a row. Michael Carrick as the midfield orchestrator was clearly missed as United’s far superior possession (80%) came to naught again as West Brom went home with the full three points.
Quite expectedly, Louis van Gaal changed his starting line up from the one that played at Goodison Park, bringing in Robin van Persie for Luke Shaw. Tony Pulis too made changes to his side bringing in Mulumbu and Olson in a bid to shore up his defences. It was apparent from the start that West Brom were setup defensively and the start of the game proved as much. United midfielders were allowed time on the ball in the middle of the park but every time they tried making an incision into the final third, they came up against a solid white wall. In a cagey start to the game, both keepers were left untroubled and it was de Gea who was first to be tested by a Joleon Lescott header off a Gardner corner. Minutes later, Robin van Persie expertly controlled a Herrera pass before turning on the spot and volleying towards goal. Myhill produced a good save to deflect the ball clear but only as far as Young, whose shot ricocheted off a couple of defenders and finally Robin van Persie himself to go down as a goal kick. United, as expected, kept the lion’s share of possession while West Brom did make occasional forays into United’s third before being shut down by Smalling and co. The half ended goalless for both sides.
United began the second half a bit gingerly allowing West Brom a couple of forays into the box before order was restored and United took over possession. Rooney and van Persie dropped deeper while Fellaini was pushed up into the lone striker role. Soon United were peppering the West Brom box with through balls. Many intense games of goal mouth pinball followed but the scoreline remained unchanged. In the 62nd minute Fletcher managed to get the ball at the edge of United’s box when Paddy McNair brought down the ex United man gifting West Brom a free kick in a dangerous position. Chris Brunt hammered the free kick into the wall and it took a deflection off Olson to leave de Gea with no chance as the ball nestled into the top corner. Immediately, Blind was taken off for di Maria, although the change was being prepared even before the free kick had been conceded. Just past 70 minutes, Berahino conceded a penalty via handball at the edge of the box but Robin van Persie was unable to equalise for the home side as Myhill made a spectacular save to his left to keep the ball out. United were repeatedly frustrated by the resolute West Brom defense. Running out of options, van Gaal brought on Falcao for Paddy McNair with 7 minutes remaining. The substitution however proved ineffective as United failed to break down West Brom and Tony Pulis scored his first career win against Manchester United.
Post match, Louis van Gaal mentioned that “enough chances were created but the finishing was not good enough. We were unlucky. We played good attacking football for 90 minutes and one free kick cost us. But you have to take care of your chances. And I feel we had enough chances.” When asked how he would break out of this losing rut, van Gaal said “by communicating. The players are very disappointed but we need to communicate.”
The match was played under the shadow of the passing away of ex United defender, Rio Ferdinand’s wife, Rebecca as she lost a short battle to breast cancer. Both teams wore black armbands in respect to the departed soul and the spectators applauded in the fifth minute in her honour, No. 5 being Rio’s jersey number for the 12 years he played at Old Trafford.