West Brom 0 Manchester United 3 match report: Manchester United stick to the script as Robin Van Persie loses the plot
Pressure eases on David Moyes but West Brom still searching for their first win under Pepe Mel
Manchester United’s supporters are under no illusions. Their line of “We’re going to win the league” after their side went ahead was a very neat piece of self-deprecation. But at least the vice clamps their manager a little less punishingly than it does Pepe Mel. The West Bromwich Albion manager, still without a win at the club, was clinging on to employment last night and may be gone before the weekend is out.
For a time, there was a lack of design and balance to the architecture of the victory. It felt as if the best of United’s players had been sent onto the pitch and told to sort themselves out. Juan Mata went off for the occasional hike, Wayne Rooney drifted deep into midfield and the spectacle of Rafael, Mata and Marouane Fellaini all waiting for the same Adnan Januzaj cross on the half-hour was testament to the lack of method.
The team actually assumed its best balance when Van Persie had gone – removed with a sorry shake of his head after starting the second half like a bull before a red rag, being booked for hacking from behind at Morgan Amalfitano, though avoiding dismissal for a full-blooded challenge on Chris Brunt five minutes later, in which he did connect with the ball.
There had been an element of “you’re in my space” – as Van Persie likes to say of his teammates – about the way he clattered into Rooney, cannoning him into Zoltan Gera minutes before the Dutchman departed. When he had gone, Rooney took up more of the advanced positions where he is a source of danger and United seemed liberated.
It was no golden afternoon for the Dutchman. Van Persie seemed to react to Moyes substituting him – to the extent that the referee had to direct him from the field, with the striker shaking his head. Moyes insisted later that he had given advance notice of the change.
Winning did not immediately come easy for his team. The first half was becoming another deeply frustrating exercise for a side who saw Ben Foster palm Rafael’s header from Januzaj’s deep cross onto the bar and who were initially crowded out by the defensive midfield pair of Claudio Yacob and Youssouf Mulumbu. Fellaini created occasional pandemonium in the central areas: Yacob left the field prematurely bearing the scars from the Belgian’ studs in his thigh.
But Pepe Mel’s generally resolute defenders were architects of their own doom when they allowed Phil Jones to casually step up ahead of their line and head Van Persie’s free kick past Ben Foster, just beyond the half-hour. There was still an endeavour of sorts about Albion after that, and certainly a strength about the way Victor Anichebe tussled with the central defensive pair for the future – Chris Smalling and Phil Jones – which Moyes was employing for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson combined them in an FA Cup tie 14 months ago.
But Anichebe lacks a finish to go with his force and though Gera brought two low, sharp second-half saves from David de Gea, it was a day when you wondered why on earth this club have sanctioned the sale of three strikers. There was fleeting quality from Brunt, but the supporters who departed in droves before the end could only long for the quicksilver talent of Laure Cunningham – who would have been 58 yesterday and whose grace and poise were remembered before kick-off. Albion simply don’t possess much to make opponents fear for their safety in the final third.
The near dismissal for Van Persie – referee Jon Moss seemed to be reaching for his pocket – was a bad moment for Moyes. Mel thought the Dutchman should have gone. “It was a clear second yellow. No, I didn’t speak to the referee. What would have been the point?” Moyes predictably rejected this. “It wasn’t a second booking. I thought one more foul could lead to something.”
But by then United had begun to throw off their anxiety. The second goal was attributable to more poor marking, when Rooney was able to jump freely to head home a cross from Rafael, who delivered a generally imposing performance.
The third was a work of creative beauty – something rare in United this season: a string of 18 passes which concluded with Rooney despatching a pass from the edge of the area which let Danny Welbeck, on forVan Persie, to drop a shoulder on Jonas Olsson and clip a right-footed goal.
It is now 59 days since the Spanish manager arrived here and the stadium poster advertising “An Evening with Pepe Mel” on 26 March looked optimistic for man whose last win was on 29 September with Real Betis. He has clearly heeded his own players’ pleas to tone down his pressing creed, though they subsequently lacked intensity. “The only thing I’m thinking of is working tomorrow,” Mel reflected in Spanish last night, switching into English to deliver the essential football truth that Moyes will agree with. “We need to win only. We need eleven professional men.”
West Bromwich (4-2-3-1): Foster; Reid (Sessegnon, 60), McAuley, Olsson, Ridgewell; Yacob (Morrison, 40), Malumbu; Amalfitano, Brunt (Berahino, 66), Gera; Anichebe.
Manchester Utd (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Rafael (Vidic, 87), Jones, Smalling, Evra; Carrick, Fellaini; Januzaj (Kagawa, 76), Rooney, Mata; Van Persie (Welbeck, 63).
Referee: Jon Moss.
Man of the match: Rafael (Manchester United)
Match rating: 7/10
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