Blog by: Ani
Now this is interesting. West Bromwich Albion achieved an extraordinary result on Sautrday, beating Manchester United 2-1 at Old Trafford. In a week when David Moyes had proved a point to his detractors by defeating Liverpool in the Capital One Cup, along came the minnows from the Midlands to add further furrows to the Scotsman’s brow.
West Brom, on their way to this victory, showed the benefits of taking an enterprising approach at the home of the champions. They were not only diligent in defence, with Jonas Olsson, Boaz Myhill and Liam Ridgewell particularly impressive, but were also beautifully balanced in attack, both of their goals coming as the result of outstanding pieces of play.
The first was a solo run by Morgan Amalfitano, the French forward on loan from Marseille, who cut in from the right near the halfway line, surged between the centre-backs and dummied David De Gea to the ground before scooping the ball over his prone form. The second came from the boot of Saido Berahino, whose low drive after a swift succession of sharp, neatly angled passes gave the away side their first win at Old Trafford since 1978.
Manchester United’s goal, an equaliser early in the second half, came from the right boot of Wayne Rooney, whose free-kick from 30 yards or so evaded everyone before curling into the far right-hand corner. Many have noted that Manchester United have not scored from open play in the Premier League since the start of the season, against Swansea, yet the problem is not so much the manner in which the goals are scored but the quantity of them.
Funnily enough, even though he was on the pitch for all 90 minutes of this loss and his contribution was fitful at times, Nani made a compelling case for his regular inclusion. With him on the pitch, Manchester United’s play looked unusually purposeful. He was supported here on the right flank by Phil Jones, who, although hardworking as ever in the full-back role, does not supply the vital dynamism of Rafael or his twin brother, Fabio.
Nani’s match was perhaps summarised by two decisions he made in the 14th and 15th minutes of this game. The first was the Portugal winger at his most frustrating: breaking from the halfway line, he could and should have laid a first-time ball into the path of onrushing Javier Hernandez. Instead, he hesitated, drove wide, then cut inside on his left, releasing a shot that was easily deflected away. A minute later, though, Nani was sublime: He attempted and nearly executed a pass of far greater difficulty, a cross from wide on the right that dipped and swerved beyond two markers and just over the outstretched toe of Hernandez. This would have opened the scoring, and might have laid the foundation for a close and crucial victory.
Alas for United, it was not to be. Elsewhere, there were other interesting narratives. Anderson, as ever, offered those tantalising vignettes of the player he should have been for many years, now and then initiating smart passages of play, and hitting the crossbar with a header. Shinji Kagawa, who started here, was sadly ineffective, finding it difficult to impose himself from his inside-left position. He played several neat passes, drifting across the pitch, but did not have the verve of his performance against Liverpool in midweek.
It was somewhat dismaying yet unsurprising to see Kagawa withdrawn at halftime for Adnan Januzaj. The Belgian playmaker was typically brave in possession, surging into the West Bromwich area on several occasions with the ball at his feet and demonstrating a bravery beyond that of most of his fellow wingers at the club. The sense persists that Moyes is still looking for his best starting 11, and, if so, then Januzaj is building an increasingly strong argument for inclusion with each passing cameo.
Marouane Fellaini and Robin van Persie entered the fray, the former netting a late equaliser that rightly was denied for offside, and the latter failing to rescue his team on this occasion. Much is made of the fact that Manchester United ran away with the league last year, but not so much is made of the fact that many of those victories came from losing positions, the bulk of which were escaped with the aid of the brilliant Dutchman. When he is not fully fit, the champions suddenly look much more prosaic.
This, of course, is not to detract from the excellent work of West Bromwich Albion, who just pipped Aston Villa – who defeated Manchester City 3-2 at home – for the Premier League’s result of the day. From the looks of things so far this season, it is going to be an unusually open title race, with Manchester United’s next few fixtures offering much less cause for comfort than was the case before Saturday’s match.