West Bromwich Albion 1-2 Manchester United: Tactical Review


West Brom (4-5-1): Foster; Nyom, Hegazi, Evans, Gibbs; Burke, Livermore, Krychowiak, Yacob, McClean; Rondon

Manchester United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Valencia, Smalling, Jones, Young; Herrera, Matic; Mata, Lingard, Rashford; Lukaku

Alan Pardew made just the one change from the side that drew at Anfield, with Oliver Burke coming into the team in place of Hal Robson-Kanu. Salomon Rondon continued upfront, while Gregorz Krychowiak seems to have found favour with his new boss, starting his second game in a row.

Jose Mourinho played what is arguably his first-choice team at the moment due to injuries and suspensions. Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic continued in midfield, while Marcus Rashford replaced Anthony Martial on the left, and Jesse Lingard started behind Romelu Lukaku. At the back, Phil Jones partnered Chris Smalling, as Eric Bailly’s injury now requires surgery.

Major talking points:

Jesse Lingard superb yet again

Jesse Lingard seems to have established himself as the playmaker of the side, ahead of Juan Mata and Henrikh Mkhitaryan; the Armenian can barely make a matchday squad nowadays, and seems to be on his way out of Old Trafford. Lingard was a constant menace at the Hawthorns, pulling wide to combine with the wide players, or dropping deep to receive the ball. He scored his seventh goal of the season as well; albeit it was a deflected effort, it encapsulated his night’s work quite well. Lingard came inside from the left, combined with Mata, who was central, and took a quick shot which deflected into the net off Ahmed Hegazi. This sort of run is central to his game, and in a United side devoid of too many creative options, Lingard’s pro-activeness is essential to breaking through opposition sides.

United sorely need creative options all across the pitch

Manchester United have scored four goals on eight different occasions this season, and they have the second-best attacking record in the league, with 39 goals in 18 games. However, this merely disguises the fact that United lack quality creative options, and this game was another example. The problem starts at the back; while Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are fine defenders, they are not especially renowned for their use of the ball, with Smalling being publicly dropped from the England squad for his lack of passing ability. While that remains a questionable call, there is no doubt that United’s passing tempo is severely affected by this. At the Hawthorns, West Brom were happy to sit back and let United’s centre-backs have the ball, content in the knowledge that there was very little harm that could be done. Victor Lindelof is probably the best passer from the back United possess, and Mourinho needs to get him integrated into the side as soon as possible. Secondly, Paul Pogba’s absence means that there is no creative spark from midfield either. Nemanja Matic has transformed this United side, providing balance and solidity, but he does not possess the creativity to unlock defences. A number of potential United counter-attacks were slowed down or did not materialize because Matic’s first pass on receiving the ball was to his full-back, instead of an incisive pass centrally or wide to the flanks. Ander Herrera seems to have become more of a scrapper, tackling and harrying opposition players, while his ability to pick a pass has diminished. Both United midfielders played the safe pass too many times in this game, either to each other or to their fullbacks. The burden of creativity needs to be picked up by the entire team, and especially in Pogba’s absence. United cannot be so reliant on one player, and they need a solution to this problem if they are to properly challenge domestically and in Europe.

West Brom are happy to let Smalling have the ball, sitting off and blocking his most obvious passing lanes. Matic is too deep, he needs to be at least alongside Smalling to offer an option. Rashford coming inside is the pass Smalling eventually makes; however, someone with better ability on the ball would have made the pass to Young, who has acres of space to run into if the right ball is played.

United may have a problem defending set-pieces

West Brom got a late goal through Gareth Barry, and while it ultimately proved futile for the Baggies, the manner of its concession should be an alarming one for Jose Mourinho. A corner was followed by a scramble in the box, following which Barry poked home. It was very similar to the goal scored by David Silva in the derby, and there seems to be an issue defending corners. United failed to be assertive enough in both instances, and their opposition were able to score after United failed to clear the box. With the number of tall players in the side, this should not be a problem, and some work needs to be put in at Carrington to stop this from becoming a potential area of weakness.