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West Bromwich Albion 1-1 Manchester United: Baggies drive final nail in title race coffin

Second place team inevitably struggles against 19th place team

West Bromwich Albion v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Nick Potts - Pool/Getty Images

Manchester United saved a point on the road following a 1-1 draw at Sam Allardyce’s West Bromwich Albion. The Baggies would score in the opening minutes of the match before Bruno Fernandes equalized in the waning moments of the first half.

Big Sam’s side we’re clearly well-drilled for this match after the manager preached resiliency in his interviews this week. United faced 10-men fronts for the duration of the match and the away side’s inability to break down the defense despite holding the majority of the possession felt like watching a novice play Brick Breaker for over 90 minutes.

Disaster would strike early for the Reds. Only 80 seconds after kickoff, Conor Gallagher curled a lofted cross into the box to the waiting head of Mbaye Diagne who directed the ball past David de Gea and into the goal. Victor Lindelöf found himself covering Diagne, but the Swede allowed himself to be bodied in the box to add to the ever-growing list of moments where he has been poor in aerial challenges.

With a 1-0 scoreline in hand in the second minute, West Brom started to close down the shop, and United would struggle mightily to hassle the defense for nearly the entire rest of the half. Fernandes would change that in the 45th minute with a supreme volley following a perfect cross from an in-form Luke Shaw. The Englishman notched his fifth assist of the season with a drifting ball that found an unmarked Fernandes who snatched the ball out of the air with a high left foot.

United appeared more vigorous to start the second half and was clearly pushing for a second goal. For a moment, it appeared that a potential go-ahead goal was earned by Harry Maguire who was brought down in the box on a set-piece. However, a VAR review would determine that Maguire was not downed in the box — it would also show that he was offside even though it wasn’t flagged.

The potential for a go-ahead goal for United started to drift away and West Brom picked their spots again to try and snatch the game back from the Reds. An error by Maguire very nearly led to another goal from Diagne who was denied by a heroic individual effort from de Gea.

Five minutes of added time were declared and United frantically tried to break the stalemate. Maguire, who was rather active in the attacking end all match, nearly made up for his wonky performance. Shaw played another sublime cross into the box that Maguire was able to approach with power. The defender directed the cross to the left of Sam Johnstone, but it would clang off the post and break the hearts of the Reds as the final whistle would blow soon after.

Life is too short to mince words over this performance. Like the match against last-place Sheffield United, Manchester United was out-hustled by a vastly inferior side. Despite holding the majority of possession, United flashed very few moments of true threat to Johnstone’s goal, and the Reds required a moment of the extraordinary from Bruno Fernandes to even level the score before the end of the first half.

Paul Pogba is slated to miss several weeks, and the attack was screaming for another creative presence. Yet, we continue to find ourselves watching the McFred pivot against teams that require breaking down. When there is no pressure to absorb, Fred and Scott McTominay fail to distribute the ball into attacking positions in the final third.

Donny van de Beek has been a giant enigma this whole season, but, with Pogba out, it’s well past time we find out what he can do in the midfield. And United certainly has massive problems if they lean on a more defensive lineup and put on this kind of wobbly defensive performance against a team that averages less than 0.80 goals per game.

United returns to its Europa League duties when it travels to Turin to face Real Sociedad in a neutral venue because of COVID-related travel restrictions. The match against the fifth-place La Liga side is set to take place Thursday, Feb. 18. United will then look to maintain its position in the top-four race when it hosts Newcastle United on Sunday.

While we wait to see what happens in those matches, one thing is certain after today’s events: the title race — if there really even was one — is over.