Manchester United vs West Brom: five things we learned
Manchester United 2 West Brom 0
The introduction of Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and a goal from Jesse Lingard proves Old Trafford production line is still working.
Rookies prove there's still talent in Manchester
There seems to be no escaping the Class of 92 right now, partly because that golden generation of Manchester United youngsters has apparently few successors waiting to make the breakthrough at Old Trafford.
But the second-half introduction of substitute Cameron Borthwick-Jackson – a 18-year-old Manchester-born defender – following the opening goal by Warrington-born winger Jesse Lingard highlighted the talent that is now pushing for a chance at United.
A week ago at Crystal Palace, Louis van Gaal named the Rochdale-raised Axel Tuanzebe on the bench, so the Dutchman is clearly unafraid to hand youngsters their opportunity.
Whether any of them enjoy careers even half as successful as the likes of Scholes, Butt, Beckham, Giggs and the Neville brothers remains to be seen, but at least the production line is still working.
Chicharito goal blitz a kick in the teeth for United
There are few things worse than watching a former player hit a rich vein of form quickly after leaving a club, but Javier Hernandez’s goal-glut for Bayer Leverkusen could not have been timed worse for Van Gaal.
Having allowed Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao to leave Old Trafford this summer following poor campaigns last year, Van Gaal hinted that Hernandez would have to stay in order to ensure United were not left short of attacking options.
But the Mexican was sold and has now scored in six successive games for his new club, just when United have struggled desperately for goals.
Hernandez would not have been a regular starter, but by keeping him, Van Gaal would at least have had proven cover for the over-worked Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial.
United must learn how to kill teams quickly
With United now playing a possession game, with sideways passing rather than pace down the flanks Van Gaal’s preference, they must learn how to score quickly against teams like West Brom whose sole intention is to defend.
West Brom, like CSKA Moscow before them and countless others, now visit Old Trafford with two rigid banks of four in a defensive formation aimed at frustrating United. Unless United score early, the opponents grow in confidence and the home side’s frustration mounts.
But United are still not showing the ability to bombard teams in the early stages and their unadventurous approach is giving opponents the chance to keep them at bay.
Van Gaal selections are just complicating matters
Ashley Young is not a right-back and has previously only played there in emergencies, but with Matteo Darmian suspended and Antonio Valencia injured, Van Gaal deployed the former England winger on the right side of defence.
But this was not really an emergency, with a fully-fit Phil Jones overlooked and forced to start on the substitutes’ bench while Young played instead.
As a natural defender, surely it would have made more sense for Jones to play at right-back, with Young given the chance to use his pace and crossing ability further forward.
Instead, Juan Mata played on the right wing and, with no pace and no crossing ability, did nothing to affect the game in that position.
Van Gaal called it right with Chris 'Mike' Smalling
Van Gaal may continue to get his name wrong, but Chris Smalling’s value to the Manchester United manager increases with every game.
During a summer when Van Gaal was determined to land one of either Mats Hummels or Sergio Ramos, but ended up with neither, Smalling would have wondered whether his new contract last season was merely a stop-gap measure until somebody more experienced and proven came in to replace him.
But the England defender has been an ever-present this season and, by some distance, United’s best player. By luck or by judgement, Van Gaal now has a centre-half he can depend upon and his name is Chris (Mike) Smalling.