Wed. Nov 25th, 2020

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Man United’s old matchwinner David de Gea returns against West Brom

4 min read

They played Something Tells Me I’m Into Something Good by Herman’s Hermits at half-time, a song associated with Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United tenure. Mourinho’s Tottenham sit at the Premier League summit and his successor’s soundtrack is not on the Old Trafford playlist.

United are no longer marooned in the bottom half of the table and are, remarkably, looking down at Spurs’s latest conquests, City. They have won on home turf in the league for the first time since July 4 but this was not one to savour and they paid an excessive amount of respect to a game West Brom.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer lamented the coronavirus protocols following international matches in his programme notes and United looked jet-lagged from their air miles. The irony is Harry Maguire, Bruno Fernandes and Anthony Martial were the only starters who had started for their country over the last fortnight.

Paul Pogba, absent through injury, likened France duty to a ‘breath of fresh air’ and in the Manchester rain United’s performance was not much better than the weather. Solskjaer was so unconvinced Scott McTominay was introduced for the final five minutes to preserve United’s slender lead.


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Despite the quantity of Sam Johnstone’s stops, none matched the quality of David de Gea’s from Conor Townsend with the game goalless. De Gea has not jutted his leg so decisively for years and the manner of United’s goalkeeper-inspired win was a throwback to Louis van Gaal’s days.

United’s reliance on the Video Assistant Referee has been grossly overstated but they were indebted to the the system’s pedantry and the dubiousness of referee David Coote. Coote eventually reprieved Fernandes for upending Conor Gallagher as he had grazed the ball before wellying the West Brom midfielder’s shin.

Coote could be heard saying, ‘played the ball’, which was just about true, though not necessarily clean enough to overturn his original decision and the officials have opened another can of worms with their umpteenth interpretation of what constitutes a foul.

Fernandes was, of course, the converter of United’s own penalty at the second time of asking, for Johnstone had strayed further off his line than Jerzy Dudek to repel the fluffed first effort. Fernandes has squandered three penalties this season but two have been struck from the record books and he scored with both retakes.

United have been awarded seven spotkicks already this season and 12 of Fernandes’s 19 goals for the club have come from 12 yards. For most of this season his spotkick speciality has masked his performance level. In the first-half against West Brom Solskjaer urged Fernandes, positioned as an auxiliary left-back, to return to familiar territory but the Portuguese was becoming frustrated by the congestion and the risk-aversive passing of Nemanja Matic next to Fred.

The inclusion of Matic at the expense of McTominay, taxed by his Scotland excursions, was dubious and deprived United of a creator in midfield to act as a buffer between the defence and the attack. Somehow, Solskjaer had overestimated one of the three winless teams left in the Premier League and Donny van de Beek, a suitable supplement for Fred, has gone eight league matches without a start.

West Brom had lost just once on their last five visits to Old Trafford and were not demoralised by Coote’s call. De Gea agilely denied Townsend seconds before Darnell Furlong’s naive handball inside his own area and the substitute Callum Robinson pinged the crossbar. Slaven Bilic lamented West Brom’s lucklessness by kicking a water bottle onto the pitch before reclaiming it.

Johnstone, an FA Youth Cup-winning teammate of Pogba’s in 2011, never played for United at Old Trafford but threatened to haunt them on his return. United drew six saves from Johnstone though the finishing was feckless, with Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford particularly culpable either side of the interval.

Harry Maguire’s Yorkshire growl is not as incomprehensible as those in The Last of the Summer Wine and he took six minutes to get on Alex Telles’s case. “Alex, run it forward! Alex! Alex!” Maguire hollered. Telles was soon encouraged to advance by his manager and his captain used a pause in play to elaborate on the instructions before Maguire literally showed the way forward, sparking a faultless breakaway blemished by Martial’s tame attempt.

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Martial’s dismal goalscoring record with France was derided during the internationals and Solskjaer was animated with exasperation at his failure to beat Johnstone. Edinson Cavani’s entrance on the hour led to Martial’s relocation on the wing.

Solskjaer had implored Juan Mata to veer inside from the right and when Fernandes found him with a pinpoint pass the Spaniard’s cut-back just eluded Martial. Though Mata procured the penalty, his presence on the right-hand side again highlighted United’s problem position following their failure to recruit a ready-made solution.

Fernandes claimed United’s first domestic home goal in 324 minutes of football though they have not registered from open play since their season opener on September 19. United were anything but good.

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