West Bromwich Albion vs. Manchester United
Venue: The Hawthorns
Date: Saturday, 17 December 2016
Kick-off: 17:30 BST
Manchester United stretchered their unbeaten run to 10 games with a comfortable 2-0 victory away at West Bromwich Albion.
It was Zlatan Ibrahimovic who bagged a goal in each half, taking his tally to 16 for the season during this fourth consecutive victory.
Jose Mourinho’s side now head into Christmas with some momentum generated from this run, hoping to continue this form into the festive period.
Early on, an ambitious attempt from Nacer Chadli flew high over the bar, as the visitors then struck inside five minutes.
An aerial pass down the right-hand side was chased down by Jesse Lingard, who met the ball on the half-volley to cross, with Ibrahimovic duly obliging to head home.
Midway through the first half, Lingard’s square cut back found Wayne Rooney whose strike was tipped onto the bar by former teammate Ben Foster, as Chris Brunt’s drive at the other end was held.
Good work from Matt Phillips down West Brom’s left allowed him to cross for Salomon Rondon who headed wide, before Phillips himself dragged an effort off target in a later move.
With half-time approaching, the ball fortuitously fell to Lingard inside the penalty area, but he blazed over from close range when he really ought to have scored.
After the interval, Paul Pogba’s speculative dink from a quick free-kick was held with ease before a second early goal at the start of a half made it 2-0.
Rooney found Ibrahimovic on the left-hand side of the penalty area, and a sublime piece of skill allowed him space to get his shot away, and the deflection took the ball into the far corner of the net and award that coveted two goal cushion.
As Antonio Valencia’s cross was cleared, Pogba’s follow-up was struck into the ground before Foster was able to hold, as Matteo Darmian did well to block from Matt Phillips.
United defended the aerial threat and set piece delivery well against a side renowned for such, with David De Gea having very little to do during the contest.
There was time for Chris Brunt to block from substitute Marcus Rashford before the match ended with a fair result.
Given the Baggies form, physical presence and organised set-up, this was a routine victory for a United side who lost the equivalent fixture back in March.
Rarely put in danger, the timing of the two goals allowed the team to settle down towards the beginning of each period, where they kept the ball well throughout.
This has been a good 10 days for the club results wide, with positive performances stretching back as far as the October international break bar the anomaly at Chelsea and defeat in Istanbul versus Fenerbahce.
To end the year there is a north-east double header at Old Trafford to come.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor David Moyes brings his Sunderland side to visit on Boxing Day at 3pm before Mourinho’s old friend Aitor Karanka is welcomed on New Year’s Eve with Middlesbrough, also a 3pm kick-off.
With the top four fight heating up, FA Cup retention to come, EFL Cup semi-finals to look ahead to and the Europa League knockout stages scheduled, 2017 could be an interesting year ahead.
Performances have been there for a while with the results now there to match; United will be aiming to continue the positive vibes ahead of a busy fixture list.
Manchester United: De Gea; Valencia, Jones, Rojo, Darmian; Herrera (Smalling 90+2), Carrick, Pogba; Lingard (Rashford 77), Ibrahimovic, Rooney (Fellaini 84).
Subs not used: Romero, Blind, Mata, Martial.
Manager: Jose Mourinho
West Brom: Foster; Dawson (Morrison 74), McAuley, Olsson, Nyom; Fletcher, Yacob; Brunt, Chadli (Leko 82), Phillips (Robson-Kanu 82); Rondon.
Subs not used: Myhill, Gardner, McClean, Galloway.
Manager: Tony Pulis