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What We Learned: An underwhelming performance, Lukaku scoring and the need for creative reinforcement

Manchester United earned another three points on the road on Sunday afternoon, beating West Bromwich Albion 2-1 in the Premier League, cutting the deficit between them and leaders Manchester City to eleven points again. United scored twice in the first half through Romelu Lukaku and Jesse Lingard. In the second half, United were poor with the Baggies getting themselves what turned into a consolation goal in the 77th minute through former Manchester City and Everton midfielder Gareth Barry. United were lucky not to concede another goal late in the second half.

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An underwhelming performance

United scored twice in eight minutes, which is great. They stopped the Baggies from scoring earlier in the first half and controlled the game going into the break. At 2-0 up, many will presume it was game over, but recently, United doing things similar in other matches did not feel like that. In the second half, like in other recent matches, United just did not seem to be playing as they were in the first half. It is like they take their feet off the pedal and slow the game down, which worked in getting all three points but gave the Baggies chances to get back in the game, Barry’s goal being that.

United could have conceded another goal after Barry scored, but were lucky not to. Teams like Manchester City and Liverpool are driving their victories for much of the match, not just before they go 2-0 up. United need to finish teams off, keep scoring, keep pressing, not sitting back and relying on the counter-attack to get forward. United are joint top with City and Burnley for goals conceded this season (12) which shows they have a good defence. They are also second-best to City for goals scored (39). At half-time against Bournemouth (3-0), Liverpool had scored 37 goals this season.

In order to kill off games, United need to show attacking flair. Mourinho may not have that in his team at present with only Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford the players using their pace to break forward in the wide positions; Henrikh Mkhitaryan has been missing for the last six matches. Rashford and Martial seldom play in the same team together, one replacing the other recently. It shows that United will need to find that winger to set the league alight, which will help them prevail here. It is not looking good for entertainment right now, despite the results coming in.

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Romelu Lukaku can score goals, maybe not against the big teams….yet!

Romelu Lukaku scored his 15th goal for Manchester United against West Bromwich Albion, it was his second goal this week – also scoring the winner against Bournemouth at Old Trafford on Wednesday evening. The £75 million man has scored some great goals this season and started the season in blistering form. A goal drought between the October and November international breaks sam him lose confidence and despite that, and scoring other goals against Newcastle United and CSKA Moscow, the form shown earlier in the season has not returned.

Lukaku has scored four goals in his last nine appearances, all after the final international break of the season, which for a team like United is not enough. Granted, players lose form at times, but United reliance on Lukaku seems to be too much for him. The biggest team Lukaku has scored against this season was Real Madrid, failing to score against any of the top six sides from last season. Lukaku scored against Manchester City (twice), Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal for Everton last season, failing to score against any of those teams this season.

If United are going to turn a corner this season, keeping Lukaku fresh and confidence is going be to a big battle. If he continues to fail to score against the top six teams from last season, the media will have a field day. The return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic could have helped him, but the Swede is being used sparingly, presumably because he has not yet fully recovered from his knee injury sustained more than seven months ago now. Lukaku needs to arrive during big matches, or it defeats the point in him being at the club. Most strikers can score against the smaller teams.

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Paul Pogba is a player who will be missed if players of his level do not arrive at the club

The prolific Frenchman has missed the last three Premier League matches due to suspension and getting through this victory over the Baggies will see him return to the fold. Paul Pogba was heavily criticised by the media, the ABU’s and even some of the United faithful last season. This season, his critics seem to be eating their words. Over reliance is something United have with Pogba as he is their best player. United have talent throughout the pitch, but when Pogba is not there, few seem to put themselves forward to take his place as the leader and the creative outlet on the pitch.

This season, a mixture of injury and suspension has seen Pogba play only 12 matches in all competitions (including the UEFA Super Cup). The Frenchman has scored three goals, assisted six times, having 30 shots on goal, nine of which were on target. His creativity and the fact he can play a number of positions, also being favoured as the number ten in a 4-2-3-1 formation at times, shows just why United thrive when he is on the pitch. Pogba is United’s best player, the need for other players who can be that man is noticeable, even when he is on the pitch but definitely when he is not on it.

Ander Herrera, Marouane Fellaini and Scott McTominay have all played when Pogba has been injured or suspended, McTominay being the player that seemed to rise to the challenge. The 21-year-old will be seeking to impress the manager and his teammates, which is why he has looked better. Ander Herrera does not seem to be all that interested (sometimes) this season and Fellaini has been injured and is currently on the sidelines now. Having another creative player in the midfield would do wonders for United. Who though? That is the question.

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Conclusion

Manchester United have shown improvement this season. They are second in the Premier League with 41 points after 18 matches – last season, United had 33 points, scoring 27 goals, compared to the 39 goals scored after the same number of matches this season. United are into the fifth round of the Carabao Cup, a competition they won last season, also into the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League, last season they were into the same point of the UEFA Europa League. The improvement is there to see, but there needs to be more for it to matter.

Catching City will rely on other clubs doing United, and others a favour. That is not something anyone club will want to rely on. It is the fact Chelsea, the reigning Premier League champions are still behind United by three points and a nine-goal difference, which is something the London club should be hammered for, but the criticism seems to always head for Manchester United, as they are the team everyone wants to read about, whether they support United, City, Chelsea, Arsenal or whoever. Hated, adored, never ignored.

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