Another ugly win, but van Gaal won't mind, says Gary Lim
Van Gaal may not complain, but Red Devils' lack of verve still haunts team
MAN UNITED 2
(Jesse Lingard 52, Juan Mata 90+1-pen)
WEST BROM 0
"Just go out there and enjoy yourself."
That was what the legendary late Sir Matt Busby used to tell his players just before they walked out for a game.
It usually translated into a Manchester United performance that thrilled the fans.
One wonders if current United manager Louis van Gaal tells his players the same thing as the boss of the Babes and George Best.
Van Gaal makes no apologies for winning matches his way, entertaining or not.
He will almost surely see the 2-0 Premier League win over West Bromwich at Old Trafford yesterday as a job well done.
Never mind the approach that saw United muster just one shot on target at half-time.
In arguably the only clear chance of the first 45 minutes, and certainly the only moment of the period that got the spectators excited enough to get off their seats, Juan Mata curled his effort wide after being set up by Wayne Rooney.
As expected, WBA came with a determined plan to put 11 men behind the ball.
United's players, robbed of spontaneity by their dogmatic manager, carried their careful, measured approach into the second half.
In the war of attrition, the hosts finally got their break.
When Chris Brunt misguided his headed clearance to Jesse Lingard just outside the box, the 22-year-old midfielder showed Mata how it's done by guiding a delicate effort into the bottom corner of the net in the 52nd minute.
The Theatre of Dreams roared as one, but it sounded more like a release of pent-up frustration rather than uninhibited joy.
A win may be a win at the end of the day, but the spirit of adventure in United's DNA has gone MIA.
Van Gaal doesn't bother to disguise his intentions, and he seems proud even, to go against the rising tide of discontent.
From Ajax Amsterdam to Barcelona to Bayern Munich, he has been booed at one point or another, he said, wearing his experiences like a badge of honour.
On a ground where the football once oozed purity, results now matter more than anything else.
There was certainly damning evidence in the pre-match statistics.
Before yesterday's win, United had fired just 110 shots in the league, better than only WBA (109) in England's top flight.
No team had made more backward passes (17 per cent) than van Gaal's Devils, and no side had a lower percentage of forward passes (30 per cent) than them.
Such prudent ways are why they currently have the stingiest defence (eight goals conceded) and the most number of clean sheets (eight).
After conceding, WBA had no choice and finally stepped out of their pillboxes.
Against a van Gaal-led United obsessed with possession, the visitors struggled to hold on to the ball.
They had one big break, however, the best chance of the match.
But, left unmarked at point-blank range in the 74th minute, Saido Berahino somehow headed the ball wide and high, much to the relief of United.
It probably cost Tony Pulis' side a chance to take a point away from Old Trafford.
It also fed van Gaal with even more ammunition to prove that he's right.
Mata's goal from the spot late in the match, after Anthony Martial had been brought down in the box, completed the win.
The culprit, defender Gareth McAuley, was sent off.
The result ensured United kept up with the top three as they go into the international break.
You would bet that van Gaal enjoyed this. But many are still not convinced it will lead to silverware.
BY THE numbers
30 - Since his arrival at Old Trafford, Juan Mata has been involved in 30 Manchester United goals in the English Premier League, a club best.
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