Talking Points: United v West Brom
There was plenty to talk about as Manchester United recorded a first Premier League home win of the season thanks to Bruno Fernandes' winner against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday evening.
It was tight, it was tense and our former goalkeeper Sam Johnstone made us sweat. But there was plenty to reflect on as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side climb to ninth position in the table...
BRUNO SPOT ON FOR UNITED
Our Portuguese midfielder really is becoming the main man for the Reds. So often since signing from Sporting Lisbon in January the 26-year-old has been a vital creator and executioner.
Against the Baggies he scored his seventh goal of the season to make it a very impressive 14 goals in 22 Premier League goals in United colours making it a stunning return of 19 goals in 31 matches in all competitions in his club career here in England.
And his penalty record continues to make brilliant reading even though his first effort from the spot in his 12-yard shoot-out with Sam Johnstone saw our former Academy keeper save the effort. Johnstone had strayed off his line to stop Bruno, however, and was beaten at the second attempt.
Career-wise now our midfielder has scored 32 out of 35 spot-kicks he has taken at senior level.
FINE LEAGUE DEBUT FOR OUR BRAZILIAN
This was a first taste of the Premier League for Alex Telles since his signing from Porto last month and the 27-year-old put in an excellent shift.
The Brazilian was extremely impressive against PSG in Paris in the Champions League in his only previous minutes in a United shirt. In France he played for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as a left wing-back but against West Brom he was employed as a conventional left-back as a replacement for the injured Luke Shaw.
He was always looking to get United on the front foot when the ball was at his feet and he was keen to get forward throughout the 90 minutes once he had dispatched possession to a team-mate. Defensively he was solid and his reading of the game is definitely one of his strongest qualities, as is his superb crossing and set-piece deliveries which we saw more glimpses of against the Baggies.
VAR TO THE RESCUE
Like it or loathe it, it's here to stay and on this occasion United certainly were in favour of VAR.
It was used at its best just a minute into the second half at Old Trafford. West Brom started the half well and dangerman Gallagher went to ground under a challenge from Bruno Fernandes, with referee David Coote immediately making the decision to give a spot-kick. But did our Portuguese midfielder actually touch the ball first? The VAR ref wasn’t convinced Coote had got it right and asked him to take another look. The official consulted the touchline monitor and overturned his own decision. Phew!
Next up Juan Mata’s attempted cross struck Darnell Furlong on the hand. Penalty given. VAR agreed. But then Sam Johnstone saved Bruno’s spot-kick. Hang on Johnstone moved didn’t he? VAR agreed. He was off his line when he saved the penalty.
Retake awarded and Bruno scores no problem this time. Thank you VAR.
HOME SWEET HOME... AT LAST
United’s home form since the late start to the 2020/21 season in September has been a real frustrating head-scratching puzzle.
There have been some fantastic away days this term against Newcastle, PSG and Everton and even a sensational Old Trafford high against RB Leipzig in the Champions League with that 5-0 drubbing of the Bundesliga side, but in the Premier League on our own patch things just hadn't gone our way.
Defeats against Crystal Palace, Tottenham and Arsenal was a worrying trend for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but this victory over the Baggies was a battling and much-needed first home league win of the campaign. Maybe now that monkey is off the Reds backs Old Trafford can become a fortress yet again.
Battle with the Baggies gallery
Check out some of the best images from our Premier League clash at Old Trafford.
BITTER SWEET RETURN FOR BIG SAM
Sam Johnstone was back at Old Trafford for the first time as an ex-Red to try to deny his former side victory and he certainly made a good effort of it. Johnstone, now 27, was an FA Youth Cup-winner with the Reds back in 2011 alongside Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard, but had to accept he was always facing a huge fight with David De Gea as our number one.
He went out on loan to seven clubs before finally joining the Albion on a permanent deal in July 2018. With a five/six man wall in front of him when United attacked on Saturday he was well protected, but when breached Johnstone was on hand to show just why he was rated so highly as an Academy player at Old Trafford.
After 16 minutes it looked like we would take the lead with a great move between Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes to set up Anthony Martial. The French striker should probably have given Johnstone no chance of a save but his cushioned-placed shot still needed quick reactions from the West Brom keeper with an outstretched arm.
Then came the penalty drama of a superb save only to have to face a Bruno Fernandes spot-kick again. He was beaten on the second attempt.
Nevertheless, he kept West Brom in the game to the bitter end saving incredibly from a point-blank Marcus Rashford effort and from Harry Maguire.
PACKED LEAD UP TO NEW YEAR
It has been the weirdest of years for everybody in 2020 with the impact of the devastating COVID-19 disease and it is going to be as tough and bizarre on the football field leading up to hopefully a much brighter 2021.
The international breaks are now over for this yeart, with all focus now fully on the Reds. And going into this match against Albion it meant a strength-sapping 12 matches in 38 days ahead of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s squad.
2020 will close for the Reds with an Old Trafford game against Wolves with the match currently scheduled for 28 December. In between then United will have to fit in the rest of our Premier League matches for 2020 and the remaining Champions League games and an EFL quarter-final against Everton at Goodison Park.
Hopefully by the New Year our European knockouts place will have been rubber-stamped and a place in the EFL semis also booked. And a climb up the Premier League into the challenging places would also be a very welcome way to end this strangest of years.