5 Things We Learned: Manchester United 2 West Bromwich Albion 0
By Thomas Doyle
1. Rooney racks up the goals
Wayne Rooney may not have shone in the same manner as the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo or Leo Messi this season, yet he is no less important to Manchester United’s hopes of retaining their Premier League crown. The manner in which he gambled on Javier Hernandez’s shot to poke past a helpless Ben Foster for the first showed pure predatory instinct, while the 25-year-old expertly dispatched a penalty snugly into the corner of the net to calm the Old Trafford crowd. While all this year’s talk has been of Robin van Persie’s heroic efforts, Demba Ba’s prowess and Fernando Torres’ horror show, Rooney now has 26 this season in all competitions, and with 9 in 6, he is hitting form at exactly the right time as United look to hoover up points against bottom-half opposition.
2. Ashley Young proves his worth
After a fine performance at White Hart lane last weekend, Ashley Young continued in the same vein against West Brom. The winger was full of tricks, pace and poise throughout, and worked hard for the team in what could have been a tricky encounter. While he missed out on the goal that his play deserved, Young did win the penalty with a neat turn of pace from which Rooney closed out the game. With Antonio Valencia still regaining fitness, Young’s return to the team is a welcome reminder that United are not short of quality on the flanks. It’ll be interesting to see how the former Aston Villa man handles his first ever title run-in, but his confidence suggests that he is relishing the opportunity to prove his worth.
3. Hernandez and Welbeck vying for supporting role
Unless Wayne Rooney has a catastrophic loss of form or loses a leg, he will undoubtedly be the first choice striker for the remainder of the season. Even though United have exercised their right to extend Dimitar Berbatov’s contract for another year, his lack of games suggests that this was to ensure a transfer fee rather than letting him leave on a free in the summer. Therefore, it seems as though the extra striking place in United’s preferred 4-4-2 is up for grabs for Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez. Both impressed on Sunday, and either of them could (and perhaps should) have ended up with two or three strikes. The Mexican’s shot set up Rooney’s goal in the first half and he cracked the post in the second, while Welbeck linked delightfully with Young throughout, and should have converted after rounding Foster in the second half. Both strikers (Hernandez’s current form) will have to improve their finishing in order to become an automatic pick, but with three strikers looking sharp, Sir Alex Ferguson has an attractive selection dilemma up front.
4. Goal difference could be key
After Manchester City’s loss to the swashbuckling Swansea, United now find themselves clear by a point, and with an easier run-in than their noisy neighbours. However, goal difference may still turn out to be key in a frantic dash to the finish line, and City sit pretty with a 8 goal cushion. West Brom have proved to be difficult customers in recent weeks, and Roy Hodgson’s caused an upset against Chelsea that cost Andre Villas Boas his job. Still, Ferguson would have expected United’s forwards to fill their boots after Jonas Olsson was sent off. The scoreline was a comfortable 2-0, but if the title does manage to come down to goal difference on the final day, United will not want to rue missing easy chances on days like these. Young, Welbeck and Hernandez wasted presentable chances, and these will have to hit the net in order to claw back City’s impressive tally.
5. Paul Pogba may not be leaving…yet
Many newspapers and sports websites carried the story in midweek that promising United youngster Paul Pogba had agreed to join Juventus in a four year deal after United failed to match his lofty pay demands. With this in mind, fans were perplexed to see Pogba’s name on the substitutes’ bench on Sunday, and even more so to see him replace Paul Scholes in the second half with the game won. Ferguson would never give a young player that had already decided to leave any minutes at Old Trafford, so it is clear that the issue is still unresolved. Ferguson told MUTV earlier in the day that: “The boy is still trying to make up his mind but he knows where he should be.”
With game time and encouraging words, Ferguson rarely goes as far for wantaway youths as he has done already with Pogba, and the Frenchman can consider this a golden, final, opportunity. While Ferguson and David Gill are reluctant to meet the demands of Pogba should other youngsters with potential demand a pay increase, the 18-year-old Frenchman is an undeniable talent, and could well go on to great things for United. Whether he feels the same way is up to him.