Well, when I sat at the very same place to write on the most-awaited derby of the season last week, my eyes were sparkled, the hands were shaking and there was an unnatural boost in my enthusiasm. This week, I know for a fact that Manchester City have clinched the Premier League title in a joint-fastest time period, albeit in the most unfathomable of ways. Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United squandered the self-confidence and momentum that they were so well expected to carry ever since denying City’s title win last weekend. Call it complacency, or sheer lack of intent, United were battered and irritated by the worst team in the English top-tier as the Baggies gifted the title to United’s cross-city rivals, and set up the most unimaginable of anti-climaxes of this year’s Premier League title. Here are the five talking points from the game:
- Jay Rodriguez shows that he deserves better:
For a team that has underperformed to such a dreadful extent this season, Jay Rodriguez has often shone up and tried to pave the path for West Brom’s success this season. More often than not, the team fails to make the best use of the forward’s strengths and playmaking abilities. Today, Rodriguez was at his best again as he dropped down a line to press the opponent and then recovered and worked the possession of the ball with his quick and slick feet. He moved the ball around with confidence and was the only Baggie player who looked to create something notable in the final third. The actual moment came when he rather hopelessly, low-headed the ball towards the net. It was probably the shot that he expected the least to find the back of the net, but find it did and at such an important juncture of the game. Even after the goal, he was quick as ever, blocked every possible shot from United and rose up to counter with pace at any possible situation. With West Brom almost set to be relegated even after this victory, it begs us to question whether a player of Rodriguez’s character deserves to be relegated too. The forward has shown time and again that he could be an excellent playmaking forward if his teammates make use of the numerous chances that he keeps on creating. With a number of clubs in the Premier League looking to beef up their attacking personnel, Rodriguez might as well take a transfer, as all of us would love to see such a talent at the highest order of English football.
- Penalty? Nah, not to you Basque.
Ander Herrera has been a great utility player for Manchester United, as he has been always ready to carry out the job on the field as demanded by the manager. Initially seen as an attacking midfielder, Herrera has been moulded defensively ever since Jose’s arrival at Manchester. Moreover, his tendency to provide extra defensive cover helps Pogba wander ahead and carry out the beautiful set of tricks that the Frenchman is ever so capable of doing. However, if there is one thing that blackens Herrera’s name is his tendency to over-react to situations at times. Ask Gabriel Jesus about how well the Basque irritates his opponents and the lad will come up with an entire book on it. The referees seem to have taken a note of it and accordingly Herrera was denied a penalty in the first Manchester derby of the season in December too. Well, United fans can’t complain about penalties as they seemed to have themselves come out lucky last weekend when Ashley Young’s stud up challenge on Sergio Aguero was overlooked by the officials. However, tonight Herrera quite actually deserved a penalty when the referee denied a foot challenge on him by Craig Dawson. Well, I do not know how much the personality of a player should matter while awarding spot-kicks, but today it was clear that Herrera deserved it. Just like Aguero did last week.
- Ben Foster- A story that could have been…
Even before this game, there were general talks about how talented Ben Foster has been and whether he justified his talents after moving away from United. The custodian accepted that the life at United wasn’t suitable for a family man like him but he sure did give each of those supporters a glimpse of what he could have been had the club, and the player managed something to stay together for long. Foster was busy all afternoon long, as he denied Lukaku and Sanchez in the first half with a quick double save. Then he was commanding and confident in the second half as Foster collected numerous crosses that came into the box and accordingly denied Lukaku having any chance on the goal. Even in the last minute, Foster came up with another brilliant reflex save to thwart Chris Smalling from equalizing the match. David de Gea deservedly deserves a God-like status at Old Trafford, but Ben Foster provided a timely reminder of what could have been a beautiful story as Manchester’s son handed over the champagne bottles to their cross-city rivals tonight.
- Why don’t West Brom do it more often?
For anyone who has followed their season closely, West Brom have been absolutely dismantled for major portions of the season. The fans had already lost hope on the team, and the players looked jeopardized during all the games until this one. Darren Moore looks to have worked some kind of spell on the players as the Baggies ran behind every loose ball, pushed United behind on any given opportunity and were study and uncompromising in defence throughout the ninety minutes. They did not fear to put the body in the line of the ball, and absolutely gave every single ounce of effort to ensure that United were kept away from the goalpost. They were dominant in the air, pressed high to win the ball and kept possession at dangerous positions on the field. There were a certain intensity and passion in their game that has been invisible all through the season. Additionally, the Baggies managed to score a single goal and then defended deep to ensure that they took away the most unexpected three points from Old Trafford this season. Now that they look doomed to be relegated, I doubt that any team in the EFL would match the level of performance that they displayed today. Heck, if they want to stay in the Premier League beyond this season, they will have to spark a spectacular turnaround and well, Baggies have to be solely responsible for everything that happens from now onwards.
- Why do United do it so often?
The biggest problem that has troubled Manchester United this season has been their tendency to be prone to inconsistency so heavily over the course of past eight months. They have shown flashes of absolute brilliance and dominance, and then they fail to turn up on the easiest of matches. Huddersfield, Newcastle, West Brom; these are some of the teams against whom United have lost this season and it is unsurprising to see them so far off the top spot at the moment. After a scintillating comeback last weekend, United were so high on confidence and momentum that they would have loved to carry it forward to the Spurs game next weekend. Actually, this game was initially seen as a screen test for the best probable XI against the Spurs but well things changed quickly in the second half. My only question is, why this level of inconsistency. The team is more than capable of putting relegation-battling clubs into bed with smashing performances. However, unless the manager wards off complacency from the lineup, we will, unfortunately, witness more of this.