He played for only 24 minutes, but Robin van Persie got to be the only scorer for Manchester United in one of their hardest-earned wins of the season due to the terrible pitch conditions which deprived them from a more free flowing game and because of a very persistent and hard to handle opponents.
But while Van Persie scoring late in matches, his 14th goal of the season, is something everyone is pretty much used to by now, seeing United keep their net clean and unmoved by their rivals is something new. West Brom had 14 attempts, only one of them on target. David de Gea gets the clean sheet, but it was the combination of Chris Smalling and Nemanja Vidic who did most of the work, handling Shane Long, Peter Odemwingie and Markus Rosenberg quite well.
It was the first time in over a month United managed to record a clean sheet, conceding 28 goals so far through the first 20 matches of the Premier League. They’re leading the table with a 7 point advantage at the moment, but we don’t usually see championship caliber teams concede so much. Vidic returning to the lineup next to Jonny Evans was one of the few times this season United had no problem handling a physical attack, not falling in to any silly mistakes or coverage problems. Not having Rio Ferdinand on the pitch definitely helps.
The attack wasn’t worth mentioning, except after Van Persie stepped up to the plate. Shinji Kagawa made his return and did have a few clever passes to showcase, but on a pitch that hardly allowed any passing on the ground, the main advantages of playing the Japanese midfielder went to waste. United’s attack is at its best when their wingers are fully operational, but Antonio Valencia continues his bad offensive form on the right wing.
Ashely Young did better coming from the left, setting up the West Brom own goal and having another fantastic chance during the short stretch in which it felt United had no problem handling the weather and the bad conditions. After a couple of misses, they retreated and let West Brom take over the match a bit too much for their fans’ taste. Luckily, West Brom simply couldn’t create anything that was worthwhile mentioning except for an occasional chance once every 20 minutes.
This was one of those games that felt like a trench battle but the players involved adapted well. Michael Carrick has been doing a great job this season once he didn’t have to play the central defender anymore, while Tom Cleverley is having his ups and downs, but did important tactical work instead of provide a boost to the offense against West Brom. He was later replaced by Paul Scholes, who did what he does best, even managing to avoid the customary yellow card.
Despite playing far from perfect football, United continue to pick up points in different ways. Having the best player in the Premier League helps a lot, even when it’s only for 25-30 minutes on some afternoons. In a declining “best league in Europe”, having such an imperfect team seems to be enough for a 20th league title.