Matic masterstroke seals points for United at plucky Baggies

Consistency is key in the Premier League. Just ask Manchester City. Scraping results against Bournemouth and West Ham United were perhaps even more significant than those thrashings against Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur.

So there is no doubt that United needed to keep up the pace. Going to West Brom Albion the Red Devils found themselves 14 points behind their rivals, much down to lack of ability to achieve results week in week out.

No team in English football history had overcome a 14 point gap to win the league title, but realistically United had to collect all three points at the Hawthorns yesterday afternoon.

Games like those are when a team the size of United needed to take control early on and without Paul Pogba, who was serving the last of his three-match ban after his red at Arsenal, meant that the pressure turned to Nemanja Matic.

Jose Mourinho’s decision to buy the Serbian has looked like a masterstroke at some points this campaign, but even more so at West Brom.

With him and Ander Herrera in midfield, the Red Devils controlled the early proceedings, sewing up the centre of the pitch with United’s attacking trio of Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Romelu Lukaku.

Matic’s ability to shove opponents off the ball with ease, combined with his forward-thinking passing and movement, cut apart the Baggies midfield of Jake Livermore, Claudio Yacob and Grzegorz Krychowiak.

When Tony Pulis had held the reigns at West Brom he resorted to five in midfield on occasions at home due to the understanding that opposition sides possessed technically superior skills.

Ironically against a player like Matic that set-up may have been more effective, but yesterday the Baggies were left outnumbered and effectively outplayed because Alan Pardew chose to start with a midfield three.

And from the start, it looked bleak. Matic gained possession 12 times, and it was no surprise to see that his 116 touches and 105 passes were the most of any player during the game.

Late on in the game, when United fell asleep, Matic was one of the only players in a red shirt who was alert to the danger, not just in the centre of the pitch.

Just four minutes from full-time it was the Serb, who on the line, managed to salvage the situation with the ball ricocheting into the grateful arms of David De Gea.

So with Pogba back from suspension now the question is can United close the gap? If Matic stays fit the answer will probably be yes.