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article imageWest Brom's direct attack fluster Van Gaal's mundane Man United

By Tyrrell Meertins     Mar 6, 2016 in Sports
The general theme of this weekend’s Premier League match-day witnessed prestigious sides overcome numerical advantages to salvage results away from home.
Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United encountered a similar issue at the Hawthorns following Juan Mata’s first half dismissal, thus depriving the Red Devils of creativity in advanced areas. But even prior to Mata’s sending off, United were devoid of attacking routes to goal. Coincidentally, the Spaniard was involved in United’s best move of the half, when he stormed into Albion’s third to combine with Ander Herrera and Anthony Martial, but the final pass was over hit.
United’s patient possession would always require good fortune or a hint of penetration to undo a typically organized Tony Pulis outfit, whereas West Brom’s direct approach was evident, and equally promising from the offset. The hosts were utilizing their height advantage at the far post to attack crosses, whereas Jose Salomon Rondon consistently aimed to isolate Daley Blind throughout.
However, there was nothing remotely intriguing with West Brom’s approach, but considering the limited movement from their attacking three, combined with the inability to bypass United’s pressing, placing Rondon in 1v1 situations with Blind was logical. Blind isn’t a natural centre-back, and has been identified as an aerial weakness to United’s back-line by several Premier League sides this season.
On two occasions Rondon held off Blind to tee up Stephane Sessegnon and Craig Dawson to fire decent efforts at goal. Though, the hosts were equally culpable of blunt play in the final third with the wide players marked out of the game and Sadio Berahino reluctant to run beyond the United defence.
United’s 4-4-1 out of possession remained narrow and contained West Brom’s offensive threat, but also started the second half well with the hosts defending on the edge of their box. Without creativity in the final third, United relied heavily on the dribbling from Martial and Lingard, who both placed themselves in great positions that resulted in near goal-scoring opportunities.
Frankly, it was surprising to see neither manager alter their approach following Mata’s dismissal — United may have seeked an additional attacking outlet, whereas Pulis also lacked dynamism in the final third. Instead, the Albion manager’s first substitution for the injured Dawson proved decisive, as Sebastien Pocognoli offered width from left-back.
United didn’t fear the passing from West Brom’s centre-backs or central midfielders, and their deeper defensive shape ensured Pulis’ attackers encountered difficulties identifying space to receive the ball in central areas. The substitute crossed the ball into Berahino at the near post that was nodded wide, and subsequently located an unmarked Rondon who fired his shot past United keeper David De Gea.
“The sending off played a part in the game. We had watched Liverpool go a man down in the earlier game and they came back to win,” said Pulis.
“So it's not always an advantage as they showed at the start of the second half when they upped their game. Thankfully we saw it out and we deserved it overall.”
At 1-0 you would expect Van Gaal to push his men forward, but even his substitutions were bizarre. Defensive midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin replaced Herrera, while Memphis was summoned for Rashford, still offering the same direct threat from the left. While, United’s initial approach remains unknown, the response to losing a player and falling behind was equally underwhelming.
"We have played 60 minutes with 10 men against 11 men. This is our fifth match in 14 days, I believe. It's very difficult for them to play against 11 players,” said Van Gaal.
"That's the reason we lost, because we didn't give many chances away in the first half or in the second half. The only chance, more or less, was the goal.
Van Gaal’s tenure has been fairly inconsistent, and performances of this standard is one of the major roadblocks preventing United from finishing in the top four. West Brom stuck to their game plan, but the sole reliance on penetrating dribbling from Martial and Lingard highlights Van Gaal’s lack of preparation — that was the difference, here.
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