Manchester United defeated West Bromwich Albion, who had won four of their previous six league games, by 2-0 with what was arguably their most tactically accomplished performance of the season. With the exception of 10 first half-minutes, they controlled the tempo of the match as well as the bulk of possession. This was their third successive league win, and the surest sign yet that they are recovering some of the assurance that is expected of them.
West Bromwich Albion
Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s confidence in his finishing has clearly returned, judging by his two finely taken goals. Wayne Rooney looked rejuvenated. Jesse Lingard’s decision-making in the final third was markedly better, as was Matteo Darmian’s positional sense and ambition going forward. Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo were resolute against one of the league’s toughest forward lines, and ahead of them the midfield trio of Ander Herrera, Paul Pogba and Michael Carrick looked as good as it has so far this year.
Ibrahimovic was booked for a needless first-half barge to which a harsher referee could easily have responded with a red card instead, and Lingard could have made the game safe just before half-time but instead thrashed the ball over the bar. There was also a short period of uncertainty just before half-time when the team some intensity and also lost the ball cheaply.
Manager rating out of 10
9 — Jose Mourinho made the bold call of choosing Lingard over both Juan Mata and Anthony Martial, and he was entirely correct. Lingard was not only dynamic as usual, but he showed guile both with and without the ball, and was the catalyst here. The team put together some of its most impressive passages of play so far, a sign that his methods are coming together.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK David De Gea, 6 — Did not have a poor game; it is only that he did not have a notable save to make. Was briefly irate in the first half when his defence lost the ball cheaply but otherwise had no cause for concern.
DF Matteo Darmian, 7 — Immeasurably better than he was against Tottenham. He got forward with ambition, overlapping with confidence and stretching the play, and defended with far greater calm than in recent weeks.
DF Marcos Rojo, 8 — Excellent again, even though he was booked for a late altercation with Salomon Rondon. Was only beaten once — to a Rondon header — but otherwise was in control. Strong in defence, and passed the ball out well from the back.
DF Phil Jones, 8 — A more subdued but no less forceful presence alongside Rojo, the two again combining so well that Rondon was visibly frustrated well before the end of the game.
DF Antonio Valencia, 7 — Hardworking in defence as always, overlapping very well and providing the team with an excellent outlet on the break.
MF Ander Herrera, 8 — Often took up positions beyond Pogba and Carrick at the top of midfield and his quiet intensity was key to United’s dominance of tempo and possession.
MF Michael Carrick, 8 — For the most part, he was supreme, with the exception of a flurry of poor passing before half-time. For 90 percent of the match, he marshalled the ball and his teammates around the pitch with ease.
MF Paul Pogba, 9 — Made no notable mistakes. On two occasions — on one, when he was covered by two opponents — he executed a perfect Cruyff turn near his own area to move out of trouble. The weight of his passing was excellent and he eluded his opposite man at every turn. The perfect blend of grace and graft.
FW Wayne Rooney, 8 — Worked extremely hard as ever, this time in a wide role, striking the crossbar with a superb rising drive that Ben Foster had tipped away, and looking far sharper in touch, movement and vision than he has for much of the season. Rotation and rest has seemingly done him good. Provided an assist for Ibrahimovic’s second.
FW Jesse Lingard, 8 — One of the game’s star men. Created the first goal with a magnificent cross that he delivered on the run, thrashed a first-half drive over the bar, which his positioning had allowed him to fire, moved with intelligence and great purpose throughout. Rewarded Mourinho’s faith in him.
FW Zlatan Ibrahimovic, 9 — The Swede’s finishing was lethal. He scored a header of which Alan Shearer would be proud, then skipped between two defenders to dispatch a deflected strike. Elsewhere, he was far too skillful and powerful for the opposition, holding the ball up with consummate ease and bringing his team into the play at every turn. The only — and considerable — blemish on his play was a pointless shove on his opposite man, for which he was booked, and which could have cost his team.
MF Marcus Rashford, N/A — Typically enterprising from the moment he came on, rewarded for outwitting Chris Brunt with a brutal bodycheck for which Brunt could have seen red.
MF Marouane Fellaini, N/A — Came on to a much kinder reception than he has had in recent matches, and helped United to see out the game quietly.
DF Chris Smalling, N/A — Came on too late to make a contribution, as the game proceeded calmly to a close.
Musa Okwonga is one of ESPN FC’s Manchester United bloggers. Follow on Twitter: @Okwonga.