United began their defence of the Premier League title with a trip to the Hawthorns stadium to take on Roy Hodgson’s West Brom side, keen to avoid another relegation fight this season. In the same fixture last season, the reds were extremely fortunate to take the points in a game where Gary Neville by his own admission should have been sent off, and Odemwinge missed a crucial penalty for the Baggies whilst the score was 1-1. However, fresh from their community shield victory over Manchester City, Fergie’s new flock of fledglings took to the field looking to start the season with a bang and ease fears that this season would be another struggle away from home. Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley were rewarded for their performances against City with starts in place of the more experienced Micheal Carrick and Dimitar Berbatov.
With many of the United first team looking to make an early impression upon the manager, the reds flew out of the traps playing with real purpose and tempo, bewildering West Brom who enjoyed very sparing amounts of possession. Tom Cleverley was continuing his good pre season form and his flourishing relationship with Anderson, and it came as no surprise when United took a well deserved lead on 13 minutes. United new boy Ashley Young received a beautiful flick from Rooney, before returning to the England striker who slammed home a left footed shot to give the reds the perfect start to the season. With the momentum firmly with United, Nani was guilty of squandering a glorious chance to all but finish the game after another delightful move, including a rapid interchange between Rooney and Welbeck, however the Portugese winger sent his shot curling high and wide.
Despite controlling the early runnings, an injury to skipper Nemanja Vidic appeared to derail United who allowed West Brom back into the game. New signing David De Gea was forced into action to deny Paul Scharner’s powerful strike, parrying well. However, minutes later the young Spaniard was the centre of controversy, as Shane Long’s low strike found its way underneath the United keeper to level things up for the baggies. With two high profile errors in his first two appearances, it has been a far from ideal start for United’s young keeper, with the shadow of Edwin Van Der Sar looming large over him. As part of the goalkeeping club myself, I do feel a large degree of sympathy for De Gea, and with time he will become a great keeper for United. However the immediate concerns arise around the confidence of the defence in him, and the wider ramifications of this throughout the team with important Premier League points on the line an area that must be amended sooner rather than later.
The goal appeared to further take the wind out of United’s sails as West Brom grew in confidence in the second half, looking the more threatening side. De Gea was tested at every available opportunity, often overtly with some robust challenges going on in an attempt to unsettle the young Spaniard even further. Things got worse for United as Rio Ferdinand picked up a hamstring injury 20 minutes from time, ruling him out for 6 weeks, handing Phil Jones his competitive United debut in testing circumstances. Just as the game appeared to be winding down towards a draw, United proved their title credentials in typical fashion. A sublime turn from Ashley Young left Chris Brunt for dead, allowing the United winger to drive into the box whipping in a dangerous ball, which could only be diverted past a helpless Ben Foster courtesy of several defections. With only 10 minutes left on the clock, United closed out the game with little alarm, securing there first win of the season, and crucially away from home an area which greatly let United down last season, almost costing us the title. With other rivals dropping points, Ferguson will undoubtedly be pleased to have stolen a march at this very early stage in the season, however with defensive injuries mounting, and big home games on the horizon, the coming weeks are important if United are to lay down an early marker.
De Gea – 5 Some good saves, glaring error damaged his confidence in 2nd half.
Smalling – 6 Defensively solid, struggled offensively.
Ferdinand – 6 Found it tough against Tchoyi, worrying injury.
Vidic – 5 Injured in 1st half.
Fabio – 6 Key role in the opening goal, defensive work to be done though.
Nani – 5 One of those ‘Nani’ performances. Frustrated with final ball.
Cleverley – 7 Cool calm and collected throughout. Great on the ball.
Anderson – 6 Able partner for Cleverley, faded in 2nd half.
Young – 8 MOTM Direct, always willing runner and crucial involvement in both goals.
Rooney – 7 Stunning goal, lacked service in 2nd half though.
Welbeck – 6 Worked hard, end product lacking.
Evans – 6 Slightly worried by Long, largely untroubled however.
Jones – 6 Closed the game out well, oozes confidence.
Berbatov – 6 Involved in the winner, added lacking quality up front.