Manchester United were woeful at The Hawthorns in a defeat that leaves slim hopes of a top-four finish in tatters.
After four wins in a row in all competitions, Manchester United’s 1-0 defeat to West Brom served as a timely reminder of the squad’s limitations.
The loss also highlighted manager Louis van Gaal’s own deficiencies. The Dutchman made two downright bizarre substitutions and failed to even attempt to find a way back into the game when the home side took the lead.
Bringing on Morgan Schneiderlin for Ander Herrera indicated Van Gaal was happy to settle for a 0-0. Replacing Matteo Darmian with Tim Fosu-Mensah instead of sending on another attacking player suggested the Dutchman was content with losing 1-0.
United’s players, though, didn’t perform well. Juan Mata was red-carded – the first of his career – following two bookings in quick succession. Daley Blind looked exhausted and was at fault for the goal. Darmian, meanwhile, put in a(nother) performance that raises serious doubts regarding his suitability as United’s long-term right-back.
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Here are the player ratings from the game.
David De Gea: 7
The Spaniard was blameless for West Brom’s goal. Salomon Rondon was allowed to control a cross and shoot without being challenged. Prior to that, De Gea claimed a number of crosses well and distributed the ball effectively. There are a number of problems with United’s team right now, but the goalkeeper is certainly not one of them.
Matteo Darmian: 4
The Italian started the season so, so well. He defended brilliantly and got forward often enough to suggest he could be the perfect right-back for Van Gaal’s style of football. Since mid-September, however, Darmian has suffered a series of injuries and lacked confidence in his play. Against West Brom, he was so unadventurous in attack and played a number of sloppy passes. He was withdrawn midway through the second period, apparently uninjured, and this was a really concerning performance.
Chris Smalling: 7
The defender missed United’s last two Premier League games through injury but returned with a display that illustrated how important he has become. Wrapped up in a battle with goalscorer Rondon all game long, Smalling was physical and commanding. If United are to achieve anything this season, it’s imperative the 26-year-old stays fit for the rest of the campaign.
Daley Blind: 5
The Dutchman has played more minutes for United than any other player this season – and in the last two games it’s showed. Against West Brom on Sunday, Blind looked exhausted, physically and mentally. His passing wasn’t as decisive as usual and, more importantly, he was at fault for the goal that sealed the game. Blind has had a fine season on a personal level, but with the games coming thick and fast, he probably won’t get a rest any time soon.
Marcos Rojo: 6
The Argentine was fairly solid in defence and, despite not getting forward very often, provided width on the left-hand side throughout the game. Against West Brom, Rojo looked to be nearing full fitness once again. One good pass for Anthony Martial set the Frenchman through on goal and led to a free-kick, which was perhaps United’s best chance of the game. It was a steady, unspectacular display from Rojo.
Michael Carrick: 6
United’s vice-captain has had a poor season, but against West Brom he made fewer errors than he has done recently. Before the red card, Carrick was passing the ball around well enough. But after the red card, he wasn’t really the type of player you fancied could change the course of the game. Like Rojo, it was fairly average stuff from Carrick.
Ander Herrera: 7
The Spaniard started the game brilliantly. Herrera played two magnificent cross-field balls out to towards the right wing and seemed to be the United player most likely to take the game to West Brom. Following his compatriot’s dismissal, Herrera was forced to sit deeper in a two-man midfield, which stifled his attacking influence. He wasted a free-kick on the edge of the penalty area but shouldn’t have been subbed when he was.
Jesse Lingard: 7
The 23-year-old was good for the first hour of the game. Lingard was direct in his running with the ball, more so than usual, and engaged the West Brom defenders in one-on-one battles. On one such occasion after half-time, he cut it on his right foot and curled a shot towards goal that landed on the roof of the net. Questions marks still remain regarding Lingard’s effectiveness as an attacking player, but against West Brom, given the circumstances, he played well.
Juan Mata: 2
The Spaniard’s red card, for all intents and purposes, changed the game. Mata had in fact started the match well, going on a dribble that saw him beat half a dozen West Brom players before feeding Martial for a shot on goal. He also linked the play nicely and was the man setting the tempo for United. For some reason, though, he stupidly blocked a West Brom free-kick and was rightly booked. Three minutes later, he tripped Darren Fletcher and picked up a second yellow. In the process of making the challenge, Mata appeared to withdraw his leg, but referee Mike Dean produced the red card anyway.
Anthony Martial: 7
The Frenchman is so naturally talented and was perhaps United’s best hope for a goal in the game. In the second period, it was Martial’s mazy dribbles that seemed most likely to produce a goal. On one occasion, he burst past the West Brom defence down the side of the penalty and found Marcus Rashford, albeit fortunately, whose shot was deflected behind for a corner-kick. A bit like De Gea, there are no concerns with Martial.
Marcus Rashford: 6
This was always likely to be the teenager’s most testing game to date. West Brom – a team of centre-backs – are physical, uncompromising and rarely concede space. Rashford’s strengths were therefore negated and that, twinned with his obvious fatigue, led to a fairly listless performance. That, however, is by no means a criticism. Rashford should have been rested for the match, particularly given the opposition.
Morgan Schneiderlin: 6
The Frenchman has yet to really strike up a partnership with Carrick – and this game was no different. Although Schneiderlin’s introduction didn’t hurt United as such, it was a game that didn’t call for his skill set. United needed to score and win, and putting on a defensive midfielder for an attacking midfielder was not the right way to go.
Memphis Depay: N/A
The Dutchman was thrown on for Rashford but had little impact. The best thing to say about Memphis’ display was that he was wearing nice boots.
Tim Fosu-Mensah: N/A
The 18-year-old replaced Darmian in a straight swap with less than 10 minutes to go. Fosu-Mensah made one timely block to prevent a second West Brom goal.
In the type of performance that has come to define Van Gaal’s tenure at United, there were too many listless displays and too few players trying to change the course of the game and earn one point or all three points.