Manchester United endured a frustrating afternoon at Old Trafford on Saturday as they were held to a goalless draw by West Bromwich Albion.
Manchester United hosted West Brom at Old Trafford on Saturday, looking to keep pace with their rivals in a bid to claim a place in the Top 4. However, they now risk losing further ground on them, as Tony Pulis’ side held the Red Devils to a goalless stalemate.
Jose Mourinho’s men dominated the bulk of the possession, but failed to create many clear cut chances for large parts of the match, as West Brom got men behind the ball to deprive the Manchester United attack of space in the final third to do much damage.
Man Utd 0-0 West Brom FT:
Pass accuracy: 88%-65%
Chances created: 10-3
Not the result Man Utd wanted. pic.twitter.com/PMATDgZwhn
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 1, 2017
In the end it was a frustrating afternoon for Mourinho and his charges, as they had to settle for yet another draw – their eighth stalemate at Old Trafford. With Manchester City set to face Arsenal at the Emirates on Sunday, Manchester United now risk falling six points adrift of a place in the Top 4.
The Hard Tackle now takes a closer look at some of the major talking points to have emerged out of another frustrating outing at home for Manchester United.
Old Trafford Frustrations Continue
If there’s one area where Jose Mourinho has excelled since taking charge of Manchester United nearly 10 months ago, it is that after a few initial failures, he has turned the Red Devils into a side that is one of the hardest to beat in the English top flight.
Man Utd have now drawn 8 of their last 12 Premier League games at Old Trafford.
Yet another stalemate. pic.twitter.com/GcOUWTQJ0y
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 1, 2017
That is evidenced by the remarkable unbeaten run that Manchester United are on currently, having not lost a game in 19, since going down 4-0 to Chelsea in October. However, despite all the positive changes, some problems still plague Mourinho’s side.
Chief among these are the troubles they have putting away sides that park the proverbial “bus” when they visit Old Trafford. Indeed, visiting sides, particularly in the bottom half of the table, are happy to sit back and get as many men behind the ball as possible, to ensure that there’s not a lot of space that can be exploited.
As a result, Manchester United have often struggled to break teams down, losing a lot of vital points in the process. They have now dropped 19 points at home this season, drawing 8 of the 15 games they’ve played at Old Trafford.
Having kicked off a busy April, in which they will play six more games in the Premier League, in addition to the two against Anderlecht in the Europa League, they can’t afford to drop any more points if they intend to finish in the Top 4, come May.
A Typical Tony Pulis Setup Comes Up Trumps
Tony Pulis did the most Tony Pulis thing ever when he took his West Brom side to Old Trafford on Saturday, as he set his side up in a typically well organised manner. This was a team that was drilled extremely well to defend stubbornly throughout the match, a team that was happy to come away with a draw.
SCOUT: A first away clean sheet for West Brom since GW1 – unexpected with McAuley & Foster the 2nd and 3rd most benched players for GW30 pic.twitter.com/0qE86cIK2l
— FPL (@OfficialFPL) April 1, 2017
The Baggies’ back four, well supported by the midfield in front of them who were marshaled superbly by former Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher, did not give their more illustrious hosts an inch to exploit.
The central defensive pairing of Gareth McAuley and former Manchester United man, Jonny Evans, in particular, were flawless for much of the match, as they made 13 clearances each in addition to a combined eight interceptions, two key figures that explain just why Mourinho’s men failed to win.
— Peter Schmeichel (@Pschmeichel1) April 1, 2017
The end result of all that was a first clean sheet on the road since the opening day of the season, having not managed to keep a single shut out away from home in 13 matches. West Brom are well on course to record their highest their highest ever points tally in the English first division and one wouldn’t bet against them achieving that feat.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic: A Talisman Who Can’t Return Soon Enough
Manchester United were missing several key players as they hosted West Brom on Sunday, and while the absence of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, the unavailability of Ander Herrera, Paul Pogba and Juan Mata did deprive them of some much needed creativity.
Zlatan Herrera back for the Everton game good news
Leaders ⚽ pic.twitter.com/jmAfkvUTPw
— Mufc Salford Red (@Mufcsalfordred) April 2, 2017
But, it was Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Manchester United’s undoubted talisman this season, whose absence was perhaps felt the most dearly on Saturday. The Swede was handed a three-match ban after an incident with Tyrone Mings of Bournemouth last month, and the match against West Brom was the final game of his suspension.
Manchester United did struggle to create many clear cut chances on Saturday, but the few that did come their way were good enough to see them through on the afternoon.
One such instance came in the first half when Jesse Lingard put a low cross in in front of Ben Foster, only to find that there none of his attacking partners made the late run to turn the ball into back of the net.
Manchester United must now quickly move on from another disappointing outing at home, as they welcome Everton on Tuesday. And as Zlatan Ibrahimovic finally returns to the side in the match, his form will be crucial in ensuring that the Red Devils do not slump to a ninth league draw at Old Trafford.
Ben Foster, The Saviour For West Brom
Ben Foster has made a habit of becoming a mountain-sized rock between the sticks for West Brom this season, making several spectacular all through the campaign to earn many valuable points for Tony Pulis’ side.
Ben foster save pic.twitter.com/oC7fWLMSBU
— West Bromwich Albion (@stuwba68) April 1, 2017
On Saturday, the former Manchester United shot stopper was returning to his former stomping ground, Old Trafford and his performance in goal was going to go a long way in determining the final outcome of the match.
That is exactly what happened, as he played an instrumental role in earning West Brom a well deserved point, having made three fine saves in second half as Manchester United desperately threw everything, including the kitchen sink at the Baggies.
The most eye catching of those was the moment of the match, as Marcus Rashford unleashed a fierce free kick from 25 yards out that was well on its way to the top corner, only to be denied by Foster, who reached out with everything that he had to tip the ball over, and ensure a share of the spoils.
Europa League: The Easier Route To Champions League Football?
Jose Mourinho was handed the reigns at Manchester United ten months ago to bring the trophies back to Old Trafford, and the most immediate of objectives was to bring the much-coveted Champions League football back to the club at the end of the season.
— Devils Latest (@Devils_Latest) March 31, 2017
Quite clearly, there were two ways to go about that – the first being a place in the Top 4 while the second included winning a silverware, the Europa League. And as things stand, it is looking likelier that the easier route back into the premier European competition will be through its second tier.
That is because Manchester United have now played out 11 draws this season, with eight of them coming at home – dropping a massive 19 points in matches played at Old Trafford. They now sit four points behind their nearest rivals.
However, to make matters worse, they still have daunting away games against Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur to come. Thus, it is no wonder that winning the Europa League could present them with a more straightforward way back into the Champions League. Will they? That remains to be seen.