For the first time since August, Manchester United go into a match on the back of two consecutive league wins, and they are targeting a third in their visit to West Brom. United made three changes to their starting lineup from Wednesday’s win over Crystal Palace, with Jesse Lingard, Antonio Valencia, and Matteo Darmian replacing Juan Mata, Eric Bailly, and Daley Blind respectively.
United started very positively, finding the back of the net inside five minutes after Lingard got on the end of a Valencia long ball before putting in a delicious cross for Zlatan Ibrahimovic to head in. Lingard nearly created a second, nearly setting up Wayne Rooney for an all time United record-equalling goal, only to be denied by a fine save from Ben Foster. And United then started the second half in similar fashion, as Ibrahimovic doubled his and United’s tally. He took the ball past two opposition defenders with a fine piece of skill before his deflected goal nestled in the far bottom corner.
Lingard’s inclusion in the starting lineup wasn’t a welcome decision for some United fans, but he proved his worth by being one of United’s biggest threats. His clever running was a direct threat for West Brom, and him cutting across the final third nearly got him a second assist. He did, however, fail to convert a good chance to bag himself a goal in the first half.
Also commendable were the centre-backs Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones. They have started to really grow into their partnership, consistently putting in confident performances. They also had the added task of covering out of position full backs, which they still accomplished.
Although, if you’re looking for the standout performer of the game you don’t have to look past the man whose goals won the match. It’s easy to just look at his goals, but his performance was more than just the goals.
His movement off the ball, bringing his teammates into play, was key to United’s attacking play. Lingard wouldn’t have had the space to run into if it wasn’t for Ibrahimovic’s movement, and he certainly wouldn’t have influenced the game as much as he did. And he did the same for Rooney, drifting to either wing to make space for his teammates. He’s a lethal finisher, but he’s not beyond dropping back to create.
And then, there are the obvious goals. His two goals early in both halves decided the game, and not just in the scoreline, they ensured that United are in control. United don’t get very many early goals, and his opener gave United a layer of security, that they won’t need to labour for one against a tight shut defence like they normally do, and his second meant United don’t have to be in the stressful situation of protecting a slender lead in the last legs of the match. His goals won United the match, and while no further arguments need to be made for him being the Man of the Match beyond that, he made them.