Manchester United’s biggest shortcoming against West Bromwich Albion was obvious.
Despite claims from some that United did not do enough to win the game, many of them citing good fortune that the penalty gods fell into their laps once again, the statistics usually tell the full story.
They revealed that United were comfortably superior in the game, enjoying 64 per cent of possession and creating 17 shots, seven of which were on target. No wonder much of the post-match praise was reserved for Albion keeper Sam Johnstone, whose saves to deny Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial were right out of the top drawer. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer even joked that United made a mistake letting Johnstone leave the club.
Yet it was clear United should have been much more clinical to assert their dominance at Old Trafford.
For fans of such metrics, United’s Expected Goals number was 2.47 to West Brom’s 0.50, meaning they did enough to score more than two goals. It wasn’t just a tale of two penalty decisions.
The goal hero was Bruno Fernandes once again, and even he pinpointed where United struggled against the Baggies, sending a thinly-veiled demand to his attacking teammates about where and how they must improve.
Fernandes said: “They played really good football, they were strong at the back [but] I think we can do much better in the final third. Less passing, we need to do much better with the shooting, I think everyone agrees with this.
“The performance was good but we can do better.
“We had some chances. Maybe if we scored in the first half then the game is much easier. Because maybe they open up the game for us. But we had chances and everyone agrees we can have better performances than this.
“We have shown already we have more qualities than what we showed today.”
Those comments should make it easier for United on the training ground in the next couple of days. They did not have much time together to prepare for this encounter, with forwards like Fernandes, Martial and Edinson Cavani all away on international duty until late in the week. Solskjaer claimed he had as little as 20 minutes to properly prepare for West Brom.
But perhaps the Norwegian may also admit he also made an error with his team selection.
Was it really necessary to start both Nemanja Matic and Fred in defensive midfield in a game like this? Even with Paul Pogba sidelined with a ‘knock’ and Scott McTominay unready to start after his excursions with Scotland, it felt like Solskjaer missed an opportunity to start Donny van de Beek.
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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.
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Van de Beek, Fred and Fernandes is one of the few midfield combinations Solskjaer is yet to try from the start in this season’s Premier League. But it may be ideal when taking on opponents like West Brom. The United manager was understandably a little tentative having seen his side struggle at home this season, and they were caught cold after picking a more attacking team against Crystal Palace on the opening day.
But the plan should be simple against the West Broms of this world. One of Fred, McTominay or Matic as the holding midfielder, Pogba or Van de Beek as an advanced and creative No.8, with Fernandes behind a front three.
That is an attacking line-up that ought to give Solskjaer the tools to beat most sides at Old Trafford.
Maybe now the monkey of grinding out a home win is finally off their back, Solskjaer can select with side more confidence. He needs to get Martial and Rashford firing and he needs Mason Greenwood back on the right-wing to inject some pace and ruthlessness in front of goal.
United blew teams away after lockdown earlier this year with a dynamic and forward-thinking front six. Solskjaer should not forget that winning formula.