Too many cooks: 5 things we learnt from Man United 2-0 West Brom

A hard-earned win for Louis van Gaal’s team, analysed by FourFourTwo’s new signing Harriet Drudge using Stats Zone...

Stalemate at Old Trafford: an opening phrase all too familiar to Manchester United fans recently. But not this week.

A clean sheet and a point against a rampant Manchester City didn’t necessarily unearth too many dissenters amongst the Stretford End faithful. The same 0-0 scoreline – for the fourth time in two weeks – against West Bromwich Albion certainly would have done…

Goals may have been few and far between again, but that didn’t stop Stats Zone unearthing some interesting tactical insight.

1) Carrick and Schweinsteiger doing the same job

A seasoned Premier League midfielder with five titles to his name alongside a German World Cup winner with a trophy cabinet the size of a small country. It should be a match made in heaven, right? Wrong.

Michael Carrick and Bastian Schweinsteiger are both excellent options for a manager to have at his disposal, but perhaps not in the same XI. Ultimately, the two holding midfielders end up doing the same job: holding. Or passing to each other – the top two pass combinations against West Brom were Carrick to Schweinsteiger (27) and Schweinsteiger to Carrick (22).

True, the two racked up the passes: Carrick attempted 117 and completed 104 (88.9%), while Schweini completed 84 of 98 (85.7%). But stripping out the sideways and backwards passes reduces the numbers: Carrick completed 65 of 76 forward balls, Schweini 38 of 51.

2) Patience is a virtue when you win, a vice when you don't

Louis van Gaal’s mysterious ‘philosophy' appears to hinge on the old adage that if you have more of the ball and are patient in possession, you’re more likely to win a game of football. That may be so – and it proved so today – but if your attacking players become so drilled at passing on first instinct rather than shooting, you’re going to have a problem when it comes to scoring goals.

Despite having 68.9% possession against opponents content to “park two buses” according to one Twitter wag, United managed only 14 shots, with just 3 hitting the target. Against the same opponents at Old Trafford last season, United piled up 26 efforts (9 accurate) – but lost 1-0. Which brings us to...

3) Clean sheets are an underrated habit

Goals may have been hard to come by for United, but you can’t deny the habit of keeping clean sheets is certainly a good one. It’s now over 400 minutes since David de Gea conceded a goal in the Premier League and United’s defence limited West Brom to just 4 shots, with none causing the Spaniard any problems.

When he did get the ball, De Gea’s distribution was interesting. Before the break he made 20 passes, of which 17 were relatively short as United built from the break and sought to create space. After the break, with West Brom forced out of their shell, he only made 11 passes – of which the majority went long.

4) Jesse Lingard provides the spark

The Warrington-born wideman has become a regular in recent weeks, getting the nod ahead of expensive summer signing Memphis Depay. In a team often bereft of attacking intent, Lingard lit up Old Trafford with his superb goal on the half-volley six minutes into the second half, breaking West Brom’s resistance.

It wasn’t just the goal that caught the eye: Lingard caused problems throughout. Nobody had more shots than his 3 (the same as Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney), completed 27 of his 31 passes, and attempted 6 take-ons – only one fewer than Stephane Sessegnon, and as many as Anthony Martial. Speaking of whom...

5) Martial needs room – and to link with Rooney

Lingard was stationed on the left because Van Gaal had moved Anthony Martial into a central position, as had been demanded by fans and experts alike. Martial was nominally the further forward of the pair with Rooney in behind, but the pair struggled to find space against that resolute Baggies backline.

But even as United strove to create a gap, there was little evidence of the front two becoming a partnership. During the 82 minutes before the generally disappointing captain was substituted for Ander Herrera, Martial successfully passed to Rooney just three times – one being a kick-off – while Rooney found Martial just once.

A home game against Tony Pulis’s defensive phalanx may not be a fair test for the partnership – Martial excels when he can run into space. After Rooney had gone and the Baggies pressed forward, Martial’s foray into the penalty area earned the penalty that meant Juan Mata could calm the nerves of a 1-0 scoreline. 

Match facts

  • Jesse Lingard has scored his first league goal since April (Derby vs Huddersfield), and his first for Manchester United.
  • Lingard’s strike was the first United had scored from outside the box in the Premier League since December 2014 (Juan Mata vs Stoke).
  • Since debuting for Manchester United, Juan Mata has been involved in more Premier League goals than any other player at the club (30).
  • Manchester United have now gone 555 minutes without conceding in all competitions.
  • Manchester United are only the second side this season to score against West Brom in the Baggies’ 6 away Premier League games (the other team is Palace).
  • United have kept 8 clean sheets in the Premier League this season already – they kept 11 in the whole of last season.
  • Tony Pulis has lost 11 of his 13 Premier League games against Manchester United (W1 D1).
  • Manchester United have lost just 1 of their last 14 Premier League games at Old Trafford (W10 D3 L1).

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