West Brom 1 – 2 Man Utd: Promising Start Hides Man Utd Deficiencies

Following the scintillating Community Shield comeback against Man City, Man Utd started this game very strongly, having 69% of possession up to the first goal on 13 minutes. They completed 69 of their 84 passes (82%) in that time, compared to West Brom’s 24 from 37 (65%), and looked to be in line for an easy game.

However, as we saw numerous times last season (particularly away from home), they allowed the opposition back into the game. In the second 13 minute spell up to the 26th minute, West Brom made almost 3 times the amount of passes as in the first 13 minutes – completing 70 from 92 passes (76%).

As can be seen from the above chalkboard (13-26 mins on the top, 0-13 mins on bottom) the possession was also higher up the pitch, in West Brom’s 3rd quarter.

Had Nani’s 28th minute effort not gone over the bar, all this would have been even more glossed over, but it shows the deficiencies of this team which could easily become the ‘first 11’ for the season.

Lack of Midfield Balance Leaves Defence Exposed

Consider the above Chalkboard, with the top chart being West Brom shots during the game, Man Utd shots on the bottom.

West Brom out-shot Man Utd 16 to 10. 7 of those 16 shots came from the area between the 18 yard line and the centre circle.

Obviously injuries to Vidic and Ferdinand didn’t help in this area, but the major factor was no cover from the midfield. Both Anderson and, more so, Cleverley looked to move forwards after a pass, which meant two things: a) there was a lack of immediate support and passing option in the event of West Brom pressing and b) there was no cover in the event the ball was lost.

In general open play, they also seemed too flat with each other, meaning there was space between the lines (in the red zone) for West Brom to take advantage of.

This caused numerous problems and, if not resolved, could be very costly against a better side (Barcelona in Europe the most extreme!) who can exploit that space even better than West Brom. Man Utd next play Tottenham on Monday 22nd August, and with Modric and Van Der Vaart, leaving this space again could have disastrous consequences.

Injuries Leave Selection Dilemma

Both Vidic (calf) and Ferdinand (hamstring) went off with injuries, with Rio out for 6 weeks, and Vidic out for 2 weeks. Added to Rafael (shoulder – 10 weeks) and Evra (Knee – unknown), United will be missing possibly what can be considered their first choice back line for the next couple of months.

This could be good news for Phil Jones, who will get an immediate chance to stake his claim for a starting spot, but will mean defensive cover from midfield is more of a necessity.

Therefore, I would expect Michael Carrick to return to the side in the place of Cleverley, and the starting 11 could look like this:

Away from home against the top sides, and particularly in Europe, I believe a 3 in midfield will be required, but at home to Tottenham, Sir Alex will most likely stick with his two wide men. Welbeck should keep his place ahead of Berbatov, who doesn’t aid pressing in the defensive phase.

David De Gea

Enough has been said about De Gea already, but Sir Alex will want to put his faith in the young lad and not knock his confidence, so in my opinion should stick with him for the next game. I don’t see the goal as a ‘mistake’, more he was a little slow to react – this will come with training over the next few weeks and months. There was another instance or two where he should have come off his line to collect, but he looked a little shorn of confidence, and the lack of communication obviously wont help. He did make a few goo saves, and as he learns the language and spends time with Eric Steele, he should improve.

Ashley Young Given Sky Man of the Match, But Needs More Variety

Given the man of the match, presumably because of his hand in the two goals, the second goal was the only time Ashley Young looked to do anything other than cut inside from the left onto his right foot. This made him very predictable and easy to defend against – just look at the above passing chalkboard: just 2 from 15 crosses found a United shirt, with 6 being blocked by a defender.

If he is to become a top player at United, he will have to add more to his game than just set pieces. Young was at his best against Man City when drifting to an inside left position to collect the ball, and last season for Aston Villa and England he would drift all over the pitch making him much harder to defend. A midfield 3 would probably allow this to happen and him to have more of an impact. We could then see him become one of the best players in the league.

Interestingly, the ratings from WhoScored.com (based on a players match actions) have the top rated players for the game like this:

1. Chris Brunt – 7.69
2. Rooney – 7.68
3. Anderson – 7.34
4. Fabio – 7.05
5. Mulumbu – 7.03
6. Young – 6.91


Despite a good start to the game, a slightly disappointing performance overall from Man Utd compared to the Community Shield. Plenty of things to work on for the team, and interesting to see how the above are rectified in the next game against Tottenham.

Keywords: football tactics, team tactics, premier league, soccer tactics, team analysis, Manchester United, Man Utd, Ashley Young

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16 responses to “West Brom 1 – 2 Man Utd: Promising Start Hides Man Utd Deficiencies”

  1. rohanberrywriter says :

    A solid statistical breakdown that makes me question some of my first impressions. I agree the midfield was unbalanced, not aided by a lifeless performance from Nani. Will look forward to further reports in the coming weeks. My own sit isn’t solely restricted to football, with only one article a week likely to be a match report and maybe a few other opinion pieces as the season progresses. However, feel free to subscribe, or add a link. Thanks for reading.

  2. betweenthelinesfootball says :

    Alan Hansen’s article today in the Daily Telegraph shows his stone age thinking.

    Focuses on the mistakes made by David De Gea, not mentioning the good saves made, and points to Vidic and Rio being absent.

    He should know (being a former centre defender) the problem lies in front of the centre backs.

  3. Often Partisan says :

    “Young was at his best against Man City when drifting to an inside left position to collect the ball, and last season for Aston Villa and England he would drift all over the pitch making him much harder to defend.”

    I think at least part of the reason for this was that Young would often play as a second striker for the Villa rather than as a winger, http://www.football-lineups.com/footballer/1896/?t=562&s=20

    A player that did play the drifting around game well in this match was Tchoyi – he popped up on both wings at different times, in Albion’s 4-4-1-1 where he was given a free role.

    • betweenthelinesfootball says :

      Quite right, and that’s the sort of freedom he needs to be given to bring out the best and make him less predictable. Looking at where he received the ball in the WBA game (which I didn’t have when I wrote the article) 47 times on the left wing, once on the right and zero in the centre area.

      Tchoyi did appear to pop up all over the place (between the lines mostly – see above highlighted problem) and they found him 38 times. He was pretty ineffectual with his end balls though – 0/5 crosses completed and 0/4 take ons successful.

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