[Premier League] West Bromwich Albion 0-3 Manchester United
ManUtd: Phil Jones (34), Wayne Rooney (65), Danny Welbeck (82)
Manchester United rediscovered the old confidence, style and swagger in an excellent 3-0 win at West Brom.
Phil Jones headed only his second Barclays Premier League goal for the club, before Wayne Rooney and substitute Danny Welbeck finished off incisive moves to lift the team into sixth in the table. The Reds were on top in the first half, even if defensive pairing Jones and Chris Smalling both had to make important tackles, with a fourth corner inside the opening 16 minutes leading to Youssouf Mulumbu clearing off the line to prevent an own goal by Chris Brunt.
Ben Foster pulled off a reflex save to tip a Rafael header onto the bar from Adnan Januzaj's fine cross but had no chance when Jones powered home a header from Robin van Persie's inviting free-kick. Jones was relieved to see Victor Anichebe fire wide after showing his strength before real controversy when Foster handled outside his box when miscontrolling Juan Mata's intended pass to van Persie. Referee Jon Moss deemed it unintentional, so it went completely unpunished.
Moss was in the spotlight again when van Persie fouled Steven Reid after already being cautioned but leniency was shown as the Dutchman did get a touch on the ball. Following van Persie's substitution, Rooney added a crucial second. The striker latched onto Rafael's centre after being involved earlier in a devastating move to head in. The third goal was also the result of splendid team play as a series of short passes led to Rooney finding Welbeck and the substitute made no mistake with a clinical finish.
Although David De Gea made a couple of saves to deny Zoltan Gera, the Reds were rarely troubled on the way to a third successive clean sheet in the league.
The match United proved far too strong for the out-of-form Baggies and played some terrific football in the second half. Robin van Persie had a key role in Phil Jones' opener but had been substituted by the time Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck put the game to bed. There was a flow to the passing that was lacking against Olympiacos and some morale has been restored in preparation for some huge upcoming matches, including the second leg against the Greeks, as well as Liverpool and City in the league.
The goals Rafael was fouled by Chris Brunt on the edge of the area to allow Robin van Persie the opportunity to power in a free-kick that an unmarked Jones guided past Ben Foster in emphatic fashion. Rooney was involved in a move that saw Juan Mata feed Rafael on the right and his perfect centre was nodded home by the no.10 for his seventh goal in his last six starts against West Brom. For the third, Marouane Fellaini and Mata played short passes to relay it to Rooney and, when his through ball eluded the stretching Jonas Olsson, Welbeck swept home clinically past Foster.
Star men Rafael was outstanding on his return to the team at right-back with Rooney and Jones also nominated by MUTV as candidates for Man of the Match. BT Sport handed the champagne to Michael Carrick for a polished performance in midfield, while Mata made important contributions at both ends of the pitch, popping up to make one vital clearance in his own six-yard box from a Victor Anichebe cross-shot.
Sub-plot Sir Alex Ferguson's final game in charge was at The Hawthorns but there was never any chance this one would end in the same 5-5 scoreline. The media talked up pressure on both managers beforehand but there was a pretty positive atmosphere at The Hawthorns from the outset. Foster was in goal against his former club and probably fortunate not to be sent off after handling outside the area.
The opposition Albion adopted a counter-attacking approach that has been the subject of much debate recently with the players apparently favouring this style ahead of Pepe Mel's usual pressing style. Anichebe's muscular presence and the occasional guile by Zoltan Gera caused some problems but David De Gea was not overly extended throughout.
Move of the match The third goal was a thing of beauty and merits the accolade, but Januzaj and Mata perhaps offered a glimpse of an exciting future by combining down the left in entertaining fashion in the first period. Mata showed exquisite skill to tee up a crossing opportunity after the pair traded passes but could only send the ball straight into Foster's arms.
In the stands The Reds fans offered some criticism of the national team after some England fans booed Tom Cleverley in midweek when his name was read out as a substitute. The away end also voiced its displeasure at referee Jon Moss' failure to penalise Foster's handball and cheekily chanted: 'We're going to win the league'. Rafael received a rousing - and deserved - ovation when being withdrawn late on.