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Flashback: West Brom 5-5 Manchester United

Many would argue Fergie’s final game in charge was where it all started to go wrong but issues were already eating away at the club.

IT’S BEEN 519 days since Sir Alex Ferguson’s final game in charge of Manchester United. 1 year and 5 months of chaos and confusion. The David Moyes era was tumultuous and best forgotten while Louis van Gaal’s tenure so far, though immensely entertaining, hasn’t been without its fair share of problems.

Many would argue that the club’s 5-5 draw with West Brom on 19th May 2013 is where the trouble began. Of course, Ferguson’s decision to step away has had long lasting repercussions but despite wrestling the Premier League title back from Manchester City in his final season, a litany of issues were allowed fester and eat away at the United setup under Ferguson’s watch, especially in his later years. There were mis-steps and mistakes – some bigger than others. And plenty were on show against the Baggies.

Line-ups:   

West Brom: Foster, Olsson, Ridgewell (Lukaku 46), McAuley, Jones, Yacob, Morrison (Fortune 79), Brunt, Dorrans, Mulumbu, Long (Rosenberg 79).

Manchester United: Lindegaard, Jones, Evans (Ferdinand 83), Buttner, Valencia, Anderson, Carrick, Cleverley (Giggs 60), Kagawa (Scholes 69), Hernandez, Van Persie

Source: ShivDes357/YouTube

First-half:

United, clearly buoyed by the occasion, put on the show in the opening half-hour. Barely five minutes were gone when Javier Hernandez pulled to the right side to retrieve a ball by the corner flag. He was afforded far too much space by Olsson and was able to swing in a terrific cross to the near post where Shinji Kagawa headed beyond Ben Foster.

Three minutes later, it was 0-2. Antonio Valencia ran at Ridgwell, made a yard of space for himself on the right side of the box and, as per his signature move, drove a low cross towards the six-yard area. Olsson compounded his earlier error by sticking out a left boot and diverting the ball to the net.

Britain Soccer Premier League Source: AP/Press Association Images

After thirty minutes, it was 0-3. A flowing move from United as Hernandez combined with Cleverley and, as the West Brom defence had moved across to try and deal with the initial surge from the right side, the midfielder pushed a pass top his left for the on-rushing and unmarked Buttner and the full-back sent a low strike to the far corner. It was United at their best – quick, intelligent, incisive, ruthless.

But, ten minutes later, West Brom pulled a goal back. Buttner’s defensive liabilities were exposed when he cheaply surrendered possession in a dangerous area and United were slow in re-aligning at the back. Mulumbu sent it wide to Dorrans, Evans came out of the middle but couldn’t block the cross and James Morrison (who had dispossessed Buttner to begin with) got in front of Phil Jones to slide home.

Second half:

Romelu Lukaku was introduced by Steve Clarke at the break and he made an instant impact. Just five minutes were gone in the second half when he latched onto a loose ball twenty-five yards from goal, wasn’t closed down and somehow squeezed a careful side-footed strike inside Lindegaard’s far post, using Evans as a shield.

United’s response was immediate. Valencia was left isolated with Brunt down the right side, took him on and hammered a low cross into the area. Van Persie was the quickest to react and turned it home from six yards.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - West Bromwich Albion v Manchester United - The Hawthorns Source: EMPICS Sport

On 63 minutes, United racked up a fifth. Kagawa linked up with substitute Giggs on the left, the veteran made an intelligent run into the channel, picked up the pass and sent in a superb ball across the six-yard area. Hernandez made no mistake from two yards.

But, if United were finished for the day, the hosts were only getting started. With ten minutes to go, Lukaku was slipped in after a neat diagonal through-ball from Markus Rosenberg, he easily out-paced Evans and effortlessly beat Lindegaard from close-range.

Moments later, a clearance from Lindegaard was met by an unchallenged Yacob. His header was flicked on by Lukaku to Fortune who played it inside to Mulumbu. Billy Jones provided the overlap, received the pass, the cutback found Mulumbu and suddenly it was 4-5.

To stem the bleeding, Ferguson sent on Ferdinand in an effort to bring some calm to a frantic and fragile defence. But the ploy didn’t work. Instead, it backfired in spectacular circumstances.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - West Bromwich Albion v Manchester United - The Hawthorns United fans were optimistic about life after Fergie...that feeling wouldn't last long. Source: Nick Potts/PA Archive/Press Association Images

With four minutes of normal time left, West Brom launched another attack. A hopeful ball to the far post was met by the head of the inexplicably-unmarked Mulumbu whose pass across goal was scrambled to the net by Lukaku. A hat-trick for the striker – still then on loan at the club from Chelsea.

In the end, United were relieved to hear the full-time whistle. What should’ve been a thoroughly simplistic exercise turned into a monumental collapse though the events were overshadowed by the pomp and ceremony that accompanied Ferguson’s final game in charge.

Reflection:

It says much that Ferguson spoke of leaving United in the ‘strongest possible shape’ when announcing his retirement. In his final game as manager, he started Buttner, Anderson, Kagawa, Hernandez, Cleverley and introduced Ferdinand, Giggs and Scholes as substitutes. Wayne Rooney, the current captain, wasn’t even in the squad after Ferguson washed his hands with the striker after he had reportedly asked to leave the club.

Many will argue that United’s cavalier attitude in the second half of this game was an unfair representation of the team, given the circumstances of the assignment. But the level of individual ineptitude was unforgivable, regardless of the occasion. Buttner, in particular, showcased just how patchy Ferguson’s recruitment policies were in his later years by conjuring a master-class in how not to defend. On the other flank, there was a right winger playing at full-back. In midfield, a gifted number 10 was pushed to the wing.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - West Bromwich Albion v Manchester United - The Hawthorns Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

What is striking is how David Moyes bought into so much of this upon arriving. He afforded consistently average players further opportunities when they needed to be cut loose. He stuck with the same selection policies – trying Valencia at right-back, pushing Kagawa wide, keeping faith in misfiring, much-maligned young players like Cleverley. Like many, he trusted Ferguson’s judgement and it came back to bite him. The victories and the titles and the success painted over so many cracks but everything’s eventual. When the house finally did collapse, Ferguson was gone. But the issues have stayed around for a while longer.

Louis van Gaal has started from scratch – a brave move. But the changes have all been badly needed. With a win tonight, United will take fourth place again. This could be another turning point against West Brom. But for the right reasons this time.

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About the author:

Eoin O'Callaghan

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