barclays Barclays Premier League

Reds Keep It Clean

1:30 PMAleks Vee

The long-awaited clean sheet came in a match-up against 6th place West Bromwich Albion. Old Trafford saw 90 minutes of what Ian Darke described as "an armchair ride for Manchester United". With Shinji Kagawa back in the lineup, United had some extra flair in their attack. The Reds dominated the first half, pushing around a helpless-looking West Brom. A great combination by Kagawa and Ashley Young let United open the score. Young's low ball into the far post was aided into the net by Gareth McAuley, an own goal from a poor attempt at a clearance. Another team's defense was to blame for a change, as the Reds seemed to have cured themselves of their Achilles' heel. Ashley Young had another shot at scoring after Valencia's delivery, but was cut short by Ben Foster. West Bromwich finally got a shot off target towards the end of the half, when Peter Odemwingie ran past two defenders to slip in a wide shot. United could have easily made it 2-0 from there on out - Foster, who was usually quite steady throughout the match, flopped on a clearance just as Danny Welbeck was running up. Unfortunately, the English forward missed the opportunity, and the ball flew well past an empty net. Vidic and Cleverley's pointless fouls gave away two dangerous free kicks to the opposition, but thankfully for the Reds, there was no magic moment in store for West Brom. The hosts lost a bit of possession towards the end but were in no jeopardy of conceding.

Kagawa in action against Thorne.
After a ridiculously slow half, the visitors were determined to change things up on the pitch. More set pieces came and went. When van Persie came on, West Brom. manager Steve Clarke answered with Lukaku, a player who has been referred to as the team's own Didier Drogba. He also brought on Scottish midfielder James Morrison, who had scored before against the Reds, most notably on New Years Day last year. McAuley, whose own goal had given United the lead, had a header that bounced off the crossbar. De Gea was no longer bored at the net, but amazingly, the guests did not make much use of their surplus of talent on the pitch. Possession of the ball had evened out, and United were on the rise once again, shifting the action back to the other side of the pitch. The guests could have had a 3 or a 4-goal deficit if not for Ben Foster. Another well-played combination involving Antonio Valencia gave Danny Welbeck the opportunity to make up for his earlier flubs. The latter aimed at the far post, but Foster dove to deflect the ball into a corner. The presence of Robin van Persie was bound to cause trouble for the visitors sooner or later. For United, the goal was better late than never. Sir Alex's two subs made all the difference - Paul Scholes found space to pass to van Persie, who shifted towards the center and had a brilliant shot into the far post. The Reds had another goal-scoring opportunity in added time during a counter, but Welbeck held on to the ball instead of passing to Valencia or Young.

Perhaps it wasn't as easy a win for United as Darke had described. It's hard to believe, but The Baggies are only 2 points away from Chelsea and 3 points away from 3rd place Tottenham. The team didn't show much of their capabilities on the pitch, however. The standings are often hanging by a thread, especially towards the middle of the table. While United maintain their lead and the 7-point gap between Manchester City, they could have been more aggressive on the attack. There is some lack of team work on the part of Danny Welbeck, and it would have been productive to have Chicharito on the pitch. West Bromwich had some sloppy defending and did not establish a good enough pace from the start, but the players are teeming with potential.

It'll be interesting to see how both teams fare in the new year.

One thing is for certain: they can only get better.

Barclays Premier League - 20th Match Week
Saturday, December 29, 2012, 10:00AM EST

Manchester United vs. West Bromwich Albion - 2:0 (1:0)
Venue: Old Trafford (Manchester)
Referee: Jonathan Moss (Leeds)
1:0 Gareth McAuley (Own Goal) (9')
2:0 Robin van Persie (Asst. Paul Scholes) (90') 

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