The Manchester United defence can hardly say that they weren’t forewarned about what to expect against West Brom.
Playing against a Sam Allardyce team shouldn’t come as a shock to any Premier League footballer and for the uninitiated Ole Gunnar Solskjaer spelt it out pre-match.
He was asked about the rudimentary approach of Allardyce in his pre-match interview with the TV broadcasters, a clear issue on the back of last weekend’s defensive collapse against Everton.
Solskjaer painted a clear picture in his interview, a message he would have spelt to his defence as well. Defend higher, thereby denying West Brom the chance to throw balls into the box, be brave and put bodies on the line.
It took less than two minutes for his team to completely ignore him and defend like they’ve never watched an Allardyce side play before. United were slow to push up, allowing a cross into a dangerous area, and Victor Lindelof lost the physical battle to Mbaye Diagne in spectacular fashion. Lindelof certainly had a claim for a free-kick, but he’d have had a stronger claim if he’d made any attempt to try and win the header, rather than simply stopping Diagne from winning it.
David de Gea shouldn’t escape censure either. The cross had plenty of height on it and landed six-yards out, with the Spaniard having a clear view of the trajectory of the ball. A more progressive goalkeeper sees that and makes an immediate decision to clear his lines, instead De Gea was glued to his own goalline.
In the first half United defended every cross into their penalty area like it was a hand grenade being thrown in during the first half and Solskjaer’s frustration with how his team were playing was audible to everyone inside The Hawthorns and the viewers watching on at home.
After the break they dominated possession and territory, yet it was West Brom who created the better chances again. Harry Maguire was grateful to De Gea for saving from Diagne, after the United captain had hit the floor under pressure from the burly striker. The same player should have won it late on and again the danger came from a cross into the box. This time it was a low delivery that still managed to find the striker unmarked right in front of goal. Luckily for United he skied his chance.
There are clear defensive issues here, however. United’s kryptonite right now is crosses into the box and playing an Allardyce team was always likely to put the fear of God into them.
This poor run of form was sparked by Sheffield United raiding Old Trafford for all three points and their first goal came from a corner that was as simple as it comes.
When Everton won a free-kick beyond the end of the four added minutes a week ago it was panic stations again for that United defence and that it ended up in the back of the net was no great surprise.
United might have cooled their interest in Dayot Upamecano before his move to Bayern Munich was confirmed, but it remains clear they need an upgrade defensively at the back, a quick and aggressive centre back is a must.
United have an issue with defending deep because neither Lindelof or Maguire are blessed with great recovery pace. When they defend deep it gives De Gea little room to come and command his area, although whether he wants to do that is another question.
De Gea deserves credit for his vital late save from Diagne, after Maguire had taken a tumble under minimal pressure in what looked like a move of desperation to win a free-kick, but the goalkeeper hasn’t had a flawless season.
His selection at The Hawthorns was the clearest sign yet that he simply won’t be dropped for Dean Henderson, but he wasn’t flawless under more pressure from high balls. United are paying around £600,000 a week in wages to three goalkeepers but don’t have an entirely convincing No. 1 right now.
But one of De Gea or Henderson should come good, with the former looking like the man who has Solskjaer’s backing. Fixing the problems at the heart of defence might require transfer market investment this summer.