Another Premier League weekend at Old Trafford, another draw for Manchester United. Following the international break, where two of United’s centre-backs were injured, the Reds were back in Premier League action at home to West Bromwich Albion in what was a very important meeting for the race into the top four in an action-packed April.
With Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ander Herrera suspended for the match, and Smalling, Jones and Mata injured, the latter out indefinitely after having groin surgery Friday evening, Mourinho had to deal with a shortage of options. With Rashford up top and Martial and Mkhitaryan on the wings, the Reds certainly had attacking options available. Mourinho also fielded Carrick and Fellaini in midfield, with Valencia, Bailly, Rojo and Young in defence with De Gea in net. West Brom defeated Arsenal before the international break 3:1 and have been a surprisingly successful squad this season.
United started the match well and had 75% of possession throughout the match, but could not create much against West Brom’s well-disciplined defence. Baggies boss Tony Pulis had obviously set up his team to absorb pressure from the home side and play defensively, a tactic that has frustrated United all season.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Anthony Martial had the best chances of the match for United, the former being replaced by Wayne Rooney at 70 minutes. Rashford was unable to produce much with his runs and Carrick looked static in midfield, always passing sideways or backwards and remaining just in front of the back four. Even with several set-piece opportunities, Fellaini was the only real target in the box with Zlatan, Smalling and Pogba missing. Rashford had two great shots saved by keeper Ben Foster, including a free-kick from 25 yards. United were only able to register 8 shots, 3 of which were on target, all match. West Brom nearly had the lead after former Red Darren Fletcher took a long-range effort which caught De Gea by surprise and slipped through the Spanish keeper’s hands onto the cross-bar, only to fall harmlessly in front of him for a save.
Two more dropped points means that United remain in 5th place, and after Manchester City and Arsenal drew 2:2 at the Emirates on Sunday afternoon, that means United are two points ahead of the Gunners and five points behind City in the table. All in all, United have drawn 11 matches this season, eight of which were at home, meaning that United have dropped 22 out of a possible 33 of those points in winnable matches. More worryingly, United have a congested- and difficult- schedule ahead of them, in comparison to Liverpool, who play only mid-to lower-table sides for the rest of the season.
United host Everton on Tuesday evening in a match that is surely a must-win. Everton fell to Liverpool at the weekend but remain only three points adrift of United in 7th on 50 points. Anything short of a win would surely mean that United’s hopes of a top-four finish are all but over. However, Zlatan and Ander Herrera are eligible for selection and Pogba could be available as well, having trained with the squad at Old Trafford after the match on Saturday. United then travel to Sunderland to face the bottom-placed side on Sunday 09 April before heading to Belgium to face Anderlecht in the Europa League the following Thursday. Here’s United’s schedule for the remainder of April:
04 APR: Everton, Premier League, 20:00 BST (H) 09 APR: Sunderland, Premier League, 13:30 BST (A) 13 APR: Anderlecht, Europa League quarter-final first leg, 20:05 BST (A) 16 APR: Chelsea, Premier League, 16:00 BST (H) 20 APR: Anderlecht, Europa League quarter-final second leg, 20:05 BST (H) 23 APR: Burnley, Premier League, 14:15 BST (A) 27 APR: Manchester City, Premier League, 20:00 BST (A) 30 APR: Swansea City, Premier League, 12:00 BST (H)
If Manchester United are to land Champions League football next season, their domestic form will have to improve and they must win all of their matches in the Europa League, of which they are strong favourites to win.
Check back next Monday for reaction to the matches against Everton and Sunderland and a look ahead at Anderlecht and Chelsea in the week that follows.