Monday, October 20, Manchester United played away against West Bromwich Albion. United were eager to guarantee the three points in this week's fixture. Manchester sought their first victory on the road; their record in away games standing at zero wins, two draws, and one loss.
Manchester's starting lineup involved likely inclusions, but featured a different formation, the 4-1-4-1, a permutation of the 4-4-2 that they've become accustomed to play. Louis Van Gaal played David De Gea in net, Rafael at right back, Phil Jones, back from injury, at right center back, Marcos Rojo at left center back, Luke Shaw at left back, Daley Blind at center defensive midfielder, Ángel Di María at left midfielder, Juan Mata at left center midfielder, Ander Herrera, returning from a broken rib, at right center midfielder, Adnan Januzaj, making his 1st start this season, at right midfielder, and Robin Van Persie at lone striker.
During the early minutes, the atmosphere was tense as West Brom sprung into attack with menacing tempo, playing balls into dangerous areas. Then, United appeared to settle the play, maintaining possession in the offensive third, seeking scoring chances. Moments later in the 8th minute, however, United were exposed. Surprisingly, a West Brom back pass would prove to be the catalyst in a lightning quick movement to goal. Andre Wisdom found ample space on the right wing behind midfield Ángel Di María and brilliant driven cross along the ground to rapidly advancing midfielder Stéphane Sessegnon, who curled a well struck shot past United defender Marcos Rojo and goalkeeper David De Gea.
United, although stunned by the goal, returned to their usual business of possession and controlling the game's tempo and demanding serious attention from the defense. In the 10th minute, a brief sighting of Robin Van Persie, as he sprung free for a chance on an inspired through ball from Di María. In the 19th, Di Maria burst past the West Brom backline onsides for a chance that found him pirouetting to control and strike the ball, still his efforts were not enough to beat the goalkeeper, Boaz Myhill. Di Maria was the biggest threat to goal during the first half, creating chances for others and nearly finishing ones that came his way. West Brom were on their heels throughout the first half, but, actually played with a certain confidence during their spells of possession.
Van Persie made dangerous runs throughout the first half, nearly exposing the West Brom defense. In the 30th minute, Di Maria, assisted by Van Persie, hit a swerving shot that nearly beat the keeper, who had to punch the well-struck shot away. Ander Herrera, playing with a midsection brace or more accurately described, a corset, simply was not himself. He attempted to possess the ball too long in impossible areas on far too many occasions. In the 38th minute, there was a moment of selfish play from Van Persie, who chose an impossible shot over an easy pass to an open Juan Mata. Mata would waste a free kick opportunity earned by Herrera on the following play, hitting a far over the bar. The first half closed without another scoring chance.
The second half began with Marouane Fellaini's substitution for the ailing Ander Herrera, who clearly had not recovered completely from his injury. Fellaini's inclusion would prove vital for United's chances in the game. In the 48th minute, on a cross from Di Maria, Fellaini won the ball with a Vardy-esque nudge on Joleon Lescott, and controlling the ball with his chest, he earned the space needed to drive a shot that beat the West Bromwich goalkeeper at the near post. United looked a different team following the goal, combining increased attacking pressure with incisive passing and ball movement.
Around the 58th minute, West Brom settled the game, earning and maintaining possession for good spell in their offensive third. In the 59th minute, Rafael got away with a clear handball that neither linesman nor head referee Mike Dean could rule on. In the 65th, West Brom would get their second chance, courtesy of Rafael playing Saido Berahino onside with nothing between him but David De Gea and yards of open grass. Slipping into that open space on a through ball provided by Chris Brunt, Berahino advanced on goal and found the precise angle to curl the shot and beat David De Gea. 2-1, West Bromwich Albion.
In the 72nd minute, Radamel Falcao entered the game for Juan Mata. It took just two minutes for El Tigre to get involved. Falcao won a ball back for Van Persie. Van Persie hit the ball on his weak foot right off the left post that produced a rebound for Adnan Januzaj, who struck it way over the crossbar. In the 76th minute, Louis Van Gaal would substitute Di María, who sustained a thigh injury, for Ashley Young, hoping to keep him healthy and rested for important games ahead.
Manchester United, despite the injection of energy from fresh players, seemed to lose their dominance on the attack. No longer were they producing attacking chances at fever pitch; instead just maintaining offensive third possession. With the time to comeback quickly elapsing, it seemed United would lose another match against mediocre competition. However, a goal was on its way. In the 87th, Daley Blind scored his first goal of the season and first goal as a United player to draw United level. A delightfully carved shot from beyond the 18-yard line, Blind rounded out a complete performance with the momentous goal. In the additional minutes of stoppage time, United resumed their dominance in the game, pressing for several chances and probing the Albion 18 yard box. Despite their increased efforts in the last few minutes, United and Albion would draw 2-2.
United left the weekend disappointed without victory, their first away victory of the season, settling for one point from a tie. The draw ended their previous two-game win streak ahead of their clash with league-leading Chelsea. Louis Van Gaal will hope that Ángel Di María will be available ahead of the next match as well as the following week's fixture against in-town rivals Manchester City. Wayne Rooney serves his last game of suspension during the Chelsea match, so United will be without their skipper for their biggest game of the season so far. Many questions will be asked of the defense in the next two matches, United will hope that they can provide the answers necessary to stop Chelsea's attacking front. United and Chelsea play Sunday, October 26th at 12pm EST.