The second best from the top and the last clashed on Sunday night, and the end result was a predictable one.
However, one mustn’t be fooled by the scoreline, as West Brom put up quite a fight in the second half, which saw Gareth Barry’s lucky 77th-minute goal give a glimmer of hope to the home side that United’s first-half efforts from Lukaku and Lingard would prove to be naught.
This means that West Brom remain stubbornly in the bottom three, while the Red Devils hold on strongly to the 11-point gap to Manchester City, one that looks increasingly redundant going into Christmas.
Here’s how the players fared on the night:
David De Gea – 6.9
The brilliant keeper was in his usual form at least in the first half, where he denied a couple of West Brom’s earnest efforts with what was simply textbook saves. In the second half, however, De Gea was denied his clean sheet, and happily gifted Alan Pardew’s lads with their first goal under the new management.
Jose Mourinho won’t be too happy with letting the sole goal get through, but the proficient Spaniard was hardly to blame when compared to his performance throughout the match.
Antonio Valencia – 6.2
Valencia wasn’t at his usual best today, despite keeping up a run of great counter attacks in the first half. However, in what might be a worry to supporters of the Mancunian outfit, he did pick up an injury in the second half which saw him subbed off for Marcus Rojo in the 66th minute.
While the issue didn’t seem to be a major one, supporters will be anxious till definitive word comes through.
Phil Jones – 7.3
The young English defender certainly proved to be what United were missing during his absence, as he was in great spirits for the entirety of the ninety minutes.
While West Brom’s lone goal did dampen the defensive brilliance a bit, with Jones not able to do anything about the eventual shot into the corner of the goal, this is good news for supporters, as he has been in consistently good form when not marred by injury.
Chris Smalling – 7.1
A mixed bag from Smalling during the encounter. While he performed his normal duties almost perfectly, it was the link up with Jones that gave more of a spark on the night rather than any great effort of his own.
Regardless, Mourinho will be hoping to deploy the duo quite often, and in all likeliness, the form will continue.
Ashley Young – 7.2
The veteran continues to amaze again and again, and the weekend was no different. While no goals were scored, nor major chances created, Young was in a decisive position against the Baggies, and for a change, actually looked to play his defensive role well too.
Nemanja Matic – 7.4
Matic seemed more in control today than he has been in several weeks, and the initial swagger seemed to be making a gradual return.
A strong and formidable position on the pitch, his presence had the intended effect of giving United the extra defensive flair, which was particularly effective against the few offensive runs of the home side in the first half.
Ander Herrera – 7.7
Deployed instead of the suspended Pogba, the Spaniard was utterly magnificent. A return of the player that won the hearts of supporters last season was in full view, and the creative jolt he brought into the side was very apparent for nearly the entirety of the first half.
After the break though, his presence appeared to be a bit shaky before regaining its natural composure, going defensive in the dying moments of the match. Another selection dilemma for Mourinho?
Juan Mata – 8.1
He certainly proved right in terms of expertise, experience, and eloquence during the fixture and was nearly unflawed throughout.
A bit of the fresh Chelsea signing was in witness against the Baggies, and for several occasions, during the match, it appeared that he was the single most influencing link between the midfield and the outright attack as evident in his well-timed assist.
Jesse Lingard – 7.5
While his goal was lucky, and despite being on target was scored due to an unfortunate ricochet, the youngster was in good form for the match.
The absence of Pogba’s attacking prowess seemed to be sort of nullified by his presence. The goal was his fourth in five appearances, and it seems likely that he will be deployed by Mourinho more and more often.
Marcus Rashford – 7.3
From the start, in the dilemma that he and Martial posed to Mourinho, the English starlet was the one that seemed most comfortable wherever he was deployed, and Sunday night was no different.
While a bit of sloppiness seemed to sneak in minutes before he was subbed off, the all-round performance was remarkable, and his first-half assist to set up Lukaku’s opener might as well have been taken from a masterclass.
Romelu Lukaku- 8.3
Easily United’s man of the match, and undoubtedly to much relief for both Mourinho and his supporters. His opening header was left uncelebrated, perhaps out of respect due to his past with West Brom, or as a continuation of a sharp message to those critics that constantly put him down in the face of the drought.
That’s two goals in as many games, and the Belgian will be heavily hoping that his good run will continue, and that the task of being the primary goal scorer won’t be pried away from him.
Marcos Rojo – 6.3
Back from injury, he seemed more and more sure in the spot, and if not for the sole goal that went in, the Argentine certainly put up a decent show.
Anthony Martial- 5.5
No goal from the usually effective impact substitute. Then again, a mere fourteen or so minutes were enjoyed by the Frenchman, and for this one performance at least, he remained relatively toothless.
Allan Nyom- 6.6
Chris Brunt- 6.0
Gareth Barry- 7.3
The only person from the home side who put in a tangible effort to make a difference in the match, and whose substitution made a grand impact in the dying minutes.
Even though the end result saw a forgettable record of games without a win being set by West Brom, some spirit can be salvaged from the fixture.
Written by Naveen Kelvin
A writer trying to craft the poetry within football. Purpose in life is to Make Good Art.