Man United have no defence as late goal denies West Brom
Louis van Gaal still has problems at the back, but are United rediscovering their lucky touch?
West Bromwich Albion 2 Manchester United 2. According to manager Louis van Gaal, it was their best performance of the season but it still wasn't enough to earn Manchester United maximum points. The 2-2 draw away at West Brom means Van Gaal's side now have 12 points from eight league games, one more than this time last season when David Moyes was struggling to impose his imprint on Old Trafford having succeeded Alex Ferguson the previous summer.
"I'm disappointed because we played our best match of the season and the result is not good enough," said Van Gaal, whose side move up to sixth, sandwiched between Liverpool and seventh-placed Arsenal.
Nonetheless Van Gaal struck an upbeat note, telling reporters: "I have to be happy because we created lots of chances and West Brom only had two chances. We gave it away which is a pity because we could have had a new start if we had won today."
But within that statement of Van Gaal's lies the problem eating away at United's hopes of rejoining the big boys at the top of the table: defence. The Red Devils did indeed create the majority of chances, enjoying almost two thirds of the possession and recording 22 shots at goal compared to their hosts' eight. Yet every time the Baggies countered, they caused problems for United's nervous defence who have now conceded 12 leagues this season, more than any other club in the top half of the table with the exception of Liverpool (who have also conceded 12).
Those problems at the back were partly offset by United's performance in attack. There were even flashes of the old United swagger in the second half as they threatened to steam-roller West Brom. It didn't happen this time, but there was enough to suggest that Van Gaal's side are rediscovering their belief and their ability to score when it really matters, as Daley Blind did at the death to secure a point.
It was Stephane Sessegnon who gave WBA the lead, rifling Andre Wisdom's cross into the top corner from 20 yards out. One nil down after eight minutes was a test of United's mettle, but it was a challenge to which they rose as the visitors began to exert their authority at the Hawthorns. Angel di Maria and Robin van Persie both went close but the equaliser eventually came from an unlikely source – Marouane Fellaini. Introduced for Ander Herrara at the start of the second half, Fellaini controlled Di Maria's cross three minutes after the resumption and thundered the ball home for his first United goal.
But back came the Baggies with Saido Berahino reasserting their advantage on 66 minutes as he capitalised on poor defending to score his seventh goal of the season before Blind rescued a share of the spoils for United with a strike three minutes from time. Like Fellaini, it was Blind's first goal for his new club but it still wasn't sufficient to secure United their first league win on the road this season. "I don't think it was a good result for us because the next two games (Chelsea at home and away to Manchester City) will be difficult," said Fellaini.
The Chelsea clash is on Sunday and it's a game United simply can't afford to lose. If they do they'll trail the Blues by 13 points and any hopes of challenging for the title will be as thin as their defence.