Here are five observations from Manchester United’s 2-0 victory against West Bromwich Albion in gameweek 20 of the 2012-13 season:
1. United manage to get a clean sheet: You read it right. The league leaders have been ruthless when it comes to finding the back of the net but the clumsiness in defense meant they were often left to chase the game this season. But the story was quite different at Old Trafford thanks to a solid if not spectacular defensive display from Fergie’s men. United carved out the lead first and it remained unscathed until it was doubled. What made the difference? A man from Serbia made the starting line-up only for the second time this season since his last knee operation. How much difference did he make? David de Gea had only one shot to save in the whole game.
2. The Baggies’ failure to get something out of set-pieces: West Brom’s spirited display in the second half deserves praise but there was hardly any end product from open-play. Shane Long and Peter Odemwingie showed glimpses of threat at times but could never really open up an otherwise fragile United backline. Yet they could have still returned from Manchester with something had they made better use of their set-pieces. Chris Brunt, their ‘go-to’ man in such situations, did whip in a dangerous-looking ball in one instance that had to be scrambled away by Nemanja Vidic, but his deliveries were mostly disappointing. Uncharacteristic of him.
3. Ferguson’s gamble pays off: The Scotsman made several changes to the team that clinched a last-gasp win over Newcastle United on Boxing Day. Unsurprising. Ferguson likes to use his squad heavily in the hectic festive period. The routined rotation saw an unusual front two of Shinji Kagawa and Danny Welbeck being named in the team sheet. United fans had every reason to worry because the former was making his first appearance since October while the latter has rarely started in a central role this season owing to the extensive competition he has been facing from Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez. The fear did not translate into reality as the 19-time league champions, though largely laboured in the second half, managed to hold onto their slender lead till substitute van Persie doubled it at the stroke of full-time.
4. The resurrection of Ben Foster: De Gea was not the busiest of the players on the pitch but his opponent no.1, who once honed his skills in the opposite goal, expectedly was. Ferguson formerly saw Van der Sar’s successor in Foster but the Englishman’s lack of consistency led to United parting ways with him. What a player he has been for West Brom this season. Playing in the stadium which once happened to be his ‘home gound’, he was equal to most of the challenges that were thrown at him. Foster pulled off some great saves and if it were not for him, the scoreline might have looked more painful for the Baggies’ devotees. Wasn’t England looking for someone to rival Joe Hart for a place in the England starting line-up?
5. The Robin van Persie factor: United were struggling to hold onto their narrow lead in the second-half as West Brom kept pushing for an equaliser in a soggy pitch. Until van Persie intervened. Who else? The ex-Arsenal man fired a left-footed curler in the 90th minute that stormed past the resilient Foster, preserving the Red Devils’ handsome-looking seven-point lead at the top of the table. He scores when he wants.