Pogba may still be required
It says a lot about Paul Pogba’s current status at Manchester United that the pre-match revelation confirming his absence from the squad did not generate much more than a flicker of interest.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer confirmed Pogba had complained in training of a ‘knock’, keeping him out of the West Brom win, meaning Nemanja Matic partnered Fred in midfield, with Scott McTominay rested after his Scotland excursions.
More fuel for that Solskjaer argument, made after the Everton win, then that his players are being put under too much strain.
But the truth is that United will have felt Pogba was not an overly pivotal loss, given his form this season.
The 90 minutes against West Brom could have changed their minds, though. This was exactly the kind of game in which Pogba could have thrived, as Matic appeared a little redundant, since the United back four did not need the extra layers of protection it has been getting in recent weeks.
Donny van de Beek and McTominay were belatedly introduced in midfield, but it could have been a much more straightforward evening had United had Pogba’s guile alongside Fred. Sometimes absence can make the heart grow fonder, but this game may have told United that Pogba still has a role to play.
Winning the VAR
Maybe they should change the old adage and say that VAR is a game of fine margins, rather than football. Because it’s clear that some people prefer to talk about the decision-making technology rather than the action itself.
VAR is here to stay whether people like it or not, though perhaps the masses are right in observing how United appear to have had the rub of the green where penalties have been concerned in recent months.
On this occasion, however, referee David Coote and his assistants in Stockley Park got everything right.
Anthony Martial fell to the ground far too easily in the first half when he felt a touch on his shoulder and did not merit a penalty. Bruno Fernandes then got a decent touch of the ball when Conor Gallagher was challenged prompting a VAR rethink; and, for better or worse, Darnell Furlong’s handball after Juan Mata’s cross was indeed a penalty according to the laws. VAR then rightly spotted that Sam Johnstone was way off his line to allow Fernandes a vital retake.
United needed a slice of fortune after a less-than vintage display, but it was vindicated on this occasion.
Telles first impressions
It was clear from the first two touches Alex Telles got against West Brom that this was a player whose Premier League debut was several weeks overdue. He looked sharp from the off and was one of United’s better players on a drab evening.
Having impressed for around an hour against PSG, only COVID-19 kept Telles away from first team matters until now, and he showcased his attacking attributes and set-piece expertise at Old Trafford.
You suspect the Brazilian will only grow into his role at United and make life difficult for Luke Shaw when he’s back from a hamstring injury.
Free Manchester United newsletter
Manchester United ground out a 1-0 win over West Brom to finally notch a victory at home in the Premier League this season.
It wasn’t pretty but it means two successive wins for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side, who have to balance league and Champions League commitments over a busy period in the coming weeeks.
MEN Sport will bring you all the reaction and analysis from United’s win against West Brom and you can have it all delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our daily newsletter. Just put your email address in the sign-up box the the top of this article, or simply click here. It’s free and takes just a few seconds.
Johnstone key to Baggies’ resistance
You could have predicted West Brom’s gameplan before the a ball had been kicked in anger so it wasn’t a surprise to see the yellow and green shirts pack the midfield and seek to deny United the space they craved throughout the contest.
But perhaps it was also inevitable that former United goalkeeper Johnstone, having failed to a make a senior appearance during a lengthy spell at Old Trafford having come through the academy, would try and make a name for himself too. He succeded.
Johnstone made two good early saves from Martial but United ought to have given him many more problems. He probably expected a bombardment of shots but, thanks to Slaven Bilic’s side and their battling approach, United failed to truly stretch Johnstone in the first half.
He then saved Fernandes’ first penalty, albeit when he was a yard or more off his line, denied Rashford at close quarters on the 66-minute mark, and palmed away from Harry Maguire on 70 minutes. The 1-0 scoreline was probably reflective of United’s below-par performance, though Johnstone prevented a much simpler night for Solskjaer, as the Norwegian noted after the game.
There would have been a few members of the United hierarchy who were unhappy to see Jose Mourinho mastermind a superb victory for Tottenham over Manchester City, to lift Spurs into the Premier League’s top spot before the Old Trafford action got under way. The acrimonious fashion in which the Portuguese departed United will not have been forgotten and it was frustrating to see him do for Spurs what he never did for United.
Still, whatever your thoughts on Mourinho, Tottenham’s win offered United the chance to leapfrog City, into the top half of the Premier League, with their win.
That fact, a clean sheet and finally a home win the league this season for United, as well as Telles’ debut, were about the only positives there were for Solskjaer to take. It’s just as well United have a game on Tuesday night, as this one will not live long in the memory.