Wednesday 26 September 2018

Dismal United roll out blue carpet as Pogba goes from hero to zero again

Man Utd 0 West Brom 1

Pogba: Unimpressive. Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Pogba: Unimpressive. Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

James Ducker

Having delayed Manchester City's title party with an extraordinary comeback in the derby, few could imagine Manchester United would then surrender in the meekest fashion possible to the Premier League's bottom club eight days later and, in doing so, gift-wrap the championship to their bitter rivals.

Pep Guardiola, the City manager, could have shot 100 on the golf course yesterday and still a round would never have felt so sweet.

On a truly miserable day for United, Paul Pogba's return from hero back to zero encapsulated his side's woes against a West Bromwich Albion team who, in helping crown City champions with five games to spare, also gave their battle against relegation the most unexpected shot in the arm. Jay Rodriguez's 73rd-minute goal gives them some vague hope yet of beating the drop.

There have been some difficult afternoons for United since the turn of the year, but none as low as this.

It was no surprise to hear the boos reverberate around Old Trafford at the final whistle as West Brom fans chanted: "Manchester City, we've won you the league."

It was a risible performance, one that again left you wondering how this team is still second in the table when they resemble such an expensive ensemble of strangers. It was not just a case of a lack of quality, though.

Manchester United's Alexis Sanchez in action with West Bromwich Albion's James McClean. Photo: Jason Cairnduff/Action Images via Reuters
Manchester United's Alexis Sanchez in action with West Bromwich Albion's James McClean. Photo: Jason Cairnduff/Action Images via Reuters

There hardly appeared to be any fight, which, considering the prize City were on the cusp of collecting, made what followed all the harder to fathom.

"We were masters in complicated football, everything was complicated, we couldn't play fast or think fast, one more touch to control, one more turn, one more flick, one more trick and we always gave them the opportunity to be solid, compact, together in their low block with physical, strong players, they always had time to organise themselves," Jose Mourinho said.

"When we have the ball, we want to run with the ball, we want to dribble, and everything was complicated.

"Probably in our best period where we were moving the ball better and the team was thinking faster and the team had more width was when they scored, which was the only way they could score a goal, in a corner or lateral free-kick and after that they closed every door."

West Bromwich Albion's Jay Rodriguez celebrates scoring their first goal with Jake Livermore. Photo: Jason Cairnduff Action Images via Reuters/Jason Cairnduff
West Bromwich Albion's Jay Rodriguez celebrates scoring their first goal with Jake Livermore. Photo: Jason Cairnduff Action Images via Reuters/Jason Cairnduff

The United manager had taken a potshot at City in his programme notes when, in a clear reference to City's raucous celebrations in the dressing room after their 2-1 derby win at Old Trafford in December and the tunnel bust-up it sparked, he praised his players for showing respect with their own celebrations after last Saturday's 3-2 victory.

It really is something when Mourinho is trying to claim the moral high ground, but it is the only victory the United manager can realistically claim - and a hollow one at that.

The reality is it has been a mismatch this season, on the pitch and in the dug-out, where Mourinho has been comprehensively upstaged by his great adversary Guardiola.

Mourinho will not want to dwell on that too long, although he should demand his players sit through a re-run of this game and explain what they were trying to achieve.

Jose Mourinho cuts an unimpressed figure during Manchester United’s defeat to West Brom at Old Trafford. Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Jose Mourinho cuts an unimpressed figure during Manchester United’s defeat to West Brom at Old Trafford. Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

By the end, Mourinho had thrown on a cavalry, but it made little difference.

His team were insipid, probably none more so than Pogba, who was jettisoned in the 58th minute only days after inspiring United's derby fightback with two goals.

There always felt a very real danger of West Brom grabbing a goal. And so it proved. Chris Brunt swung over a corner, Nemanja Matic headed back across his own goal under pressure from Craig Dawson and there was Rodriguez, ghosting, to head home.

United should have been awarded a penalty in the first-half when Ander Herrera was brought down by Dawson, but this was no hard-luck story. Ben Foster, the West Brom goalkeeper, did well to tip aside a header from Romelu Lukaku in the second-half, but United created little else of note.

It was not as if David de Gea was unemployed. He was forced to make a good save from Jake Livermore in the first-half. Mourinho's introduction of Jesse Lingard at the interval lifted United, but his intensity and desire was not matched by others, least of all Pogba, who did not last much longer.

Mourinho had offered a very clear appraisal going into this game of what he wants from Pogba.

"I expect Paul - and I think that's the challenge he has to put to himself - to keep a certain stability and not to have the good match and the so-so match and the bad match."

Suffice to say, Pogba fell well short of those expectations. Neither manager nor player looked at each other as Pogba ambled off 13 minutes after the restart after a masterclass in indifference. On these occasions he must be a maddening presence for team-mates as well as his manager.

There were more pressing matters on the day, though. City are champions, deservedly so, even if they could not have expected United to roll out the blue carpet in this way. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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