Manchester United beat West Brom 3-0 at The Hawthorns on Saturday to give manager David Moyes the best possible response in their first competitive match since the disappointing Champions League defeat against Olympiakos.
West Brom had their chances in the opening stages, but United held firm and eventually saw their dominance show, with Phil Jones heading home Robin van Persie’s free-kick to give United a first half lead, before Wayne Rooney and substitute Danny Welbeck both found the net to confirm the three points.
Aftewards, David Moyes told the BBC:
It was more like it. We were more creative and played well. It's never the easiest of places to come and we had lost to them earlier in the season so it was good to get a good result.
We earned the right to be in front. When we did, we sort of controlled chunks of the game.
Moyes had acknowledged earlier in the week that he would have to begin phasing club captain Nemanja Vidic out of the side following his decision to join Inter Milan, and he immediately made good on that pledge as he partnered Chris Smalling and Jones in central defence.
That decision apart, Moyes’ 42nd different lineup of the season seemed to be approaching his first-choice, with Van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and Adnan Januzaj all named in the starting lineup.
West Brom, of course, lack such a wealth of attacking options—with Pepe Mel opting to start with Victor Anichebe up front alone. Mel’s selection appeared to be vindicated, however, as Anichebe caused a series of problems in United’s defence.
He forced a strong early block from Smalling after making a purposeful run into the United box, before Morgan Amalfitano tested David De Gea with a powerful drive.
On the half-hour mark, United had their best chance to get in front but found Ben Foster up to the task. The save was fantastic, the ex-United player palming Rafael’s header onto the crossbar after Januzaj had found the full-back with a perfect cross to the far post.
Eventually the breakthrough came, however, and it would be delivered by Jones. Rafael won a free-kick down the right after being bundled over by Chris Brunt, one Van Persie quickly stood over to take. The Dutchman whipped his left-footed effort in at the far post, and it was met emphatically by Jones, who powered his header beyond Foster’s grasp.
West Brom nearly got back on terms before half-time, as Claudio Yacob headed narrowly over from close range following a corner. However, things nearly got far worse for them after Foster appeared to handball outside the box after miscuing an attempted clearance.
The linesman failed to flag for an offence, however, despite television replays appearing to suggest that Van Persie’s vociferous complaints had been justified.
When the two teams came out for the second half, it was West Brom who played with more purpose and threat, although they could not immediately find a breakthrough. Amalfitano and Anichebe both missed the target from outside the box, before Zoltan Gera could only tap a lame effort at De Gea after good interplay with Anichebe.
United, in contrast, were struggling to create chances, and the frustration was showing, with Van Persie lucky not to receive a second yellow card, having lunged into a challenge on Steven Reid moments after being cautioned for a poor challenge on Amalfitano.
Moyes was not willing to take any risks, however, and quickly replaced the Dutchman with Danny Welbeck.
The substitution had little impact on the goal, but nevertheless moments later, United had their second. It was a flowing, ultimately straightforward team move, with Rooney and Mata linking up before the Spaniard passed wide to Rafael—with the full-back crossing perfectly for Rooney to nod home at the far post.
Wayne Rooney is now joint top of the assist charts in the Premier League this season with 10 - alongside Luis Suarez. pic.twitter.com/VLsBZc5kGB— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 8, 2014
From that point on, it appeared clear that the Baggies were not going to get anything from the game, and a few spirited attacks apart, they rarely looked like even getting the initial goal that might have started a comeback.
Instead, the scoring was rounded off by a United substitute. It was a clever finish from Welbeck but an even better pass from Rooney, who lulled Jonas Olsson into making a lunge for a ball he could not reach—a mistake that gave Welbeck the space to get onto the ball before flicking a shot around Foster and into the far corner.
The result means West Brom remain just marginally above the relegation zone, increasing the pressure on Pepe Mel. He told BT Sport:
I don't know that (if I will be replaced), it doesn't depend on me
I'm very pleased with the performance of the players and very proud of the performance. They played in adverse conditions from the start.
The next four games are very, very important for the club, starting with Swansea, and now we have to recuperate the team.
|David De Gea||6|
|Rafael da Silva||8|
|Robin van Persie||6|
West Brom's next game sees them visit Swansea, while Manchester United host Liverpool at Old Trafford next Sunday in a key game for David Moyes.