For the second time in a week, Manchester United left their supporters speechless. But whereas last weekend they delivered a stirring comeback for the ages to deny Manchester City the title, against West Bromwich Albion on Sunday they turned in an insipid showing to hand their neighbours a third crown in seven seasons.
The 1-0 defeat to an Albion side destined for the Championship showcased the exact opposite to last week’s triumph and underlined exactly why United have been cut further and further adrift of City since October.
This may have been the first time United have been beaten at Old Trafford by a side other than City during Jose Mourinho’s two-year reign but their lifeless performance was nothing new. Too many matches over the last few seasons, under both Mourinho and his predecessor Louis van Gaal, have followed the same storyline as this one.
For too long United were sterile. They touched the ball in the West Brom area only six times in the first half, and in the second they weren’t much more dangerous. Their play was often too congested and laboured. Whereas last week they spent the second 45 minutes pulling Manchester City this way and that, seven days on they appeared clueless as to how to breach a far weaker defence.
They could have been behind in the first half, with Albion’s midfield anchor Jake Livermore being allowed to maraud forward and test David de Gea with a low drive. It says a lot that Livermore has managed only two shots on target this season, and both have come against Manchester United.
United should have had a penalty for Craig Dawson’s foul on Ander Herrera, but referee Paul Tierney’s obstructed view cut short their protests. Other than that they had little to shout about.
Paul Pogba, last week’s two-goal hero, reverted to his 2018 type here. But for an instinctive handball as the ball rose just too high for him at the far post, the Frenchman did little of note in the first half as a crowded United midfield three offered nothing and Juan Mata was forced to wander away from the right-hand side in search of work. And that only made them even more narrow and predictable.
Even after Herrera was replaced by Jesse Lingard at half-time, there was not a lot asked of West Brom keeper Ben Foster. On came Anthony Martial for his first appearance since the FA Cup win over Brighton four weeks ago but, again, nothing improved.
That he replaced Pogba was notable too, with the inconsistencies Mourinho spoke of on Friday in relation to the midfielder’s performances never more evident than over the past seven days.
Romelu Lukaku had one effort superbly saved by Foster but there was no significant build-up of pressure. Instead, West Brom punished United at the other end for a third serious defensive lapse at a set-piece.
Chris Brunt sent in a testing corner from the left and when Nemanja Matic failed to clear, Jay Rodriguez diverted home. By the time it happened, it was no surprise at all.
One week on from winning away to the league leaders, United had lost at home to the bottom club. It is truly the inconsistencies which have undermined their progress this season.
As full-time approached, Old Trafford emptied very quickly indeed. Having avoided the embarrassment of watching City celebrate the title in front of them last week, many couldn’t stomach witnessing their own heroes hand the trophy over in such meek fashion.
“Manchester City, we’ve won you the league,” chanted the travelling Albion fans as time ran out but, in truth, United, ridiculously, had done the damage themselves.