Uma Thurman in Kill Bill gif. Al Pacino in Godfather III meme. There are so many cheesy directions we can take this, but Manchester United fans probably want none of it. Yes, United probably thought it would be “that easy,” and just as the team thought it was out, “they pull (it)” back in, but cinematic clichés can’t defuse reality. Three straight losses and 287 minutes without a goal have Louis van Gaal’s team back in a fight for fourth.
That’s United’s new world after a one-sided game turned sour this evening at Old Trafford. West Brom manager Tony Pulis set up his team to play deep and defend, a strategy that paid off when Chris Brunt’s late free kick ricocheted off Jonas Olsson and into David de Gea’s goal. It felt unfair, a little unjust, but we know those feelings are bunk. Despite being outshot 26-6 and being out-possessed 76-24, West Brom out-pointed its hosts 3-0, leaving the Red Devils only four points above rival Liverpool:
Considering how the day started, it’s a surprising state. Six hours ago, a plane flying a ‘Rodgers Out – Rafa In’ banner was cruising over Anfield. After Steven Gerrard’s late penalty attempt was saved, Liverpool was on track to drop points to visiting Queens Park Rangers. But a late goal from Gerrard not only gave the aging captain a moment of glory, but it put Liverpool in position to capitalize on a United slip. The Reds were within four.
Slip United did, albeit in a different way than it slipped last week at Everton. That was a straight-forward match, one in which an early goal allowed left van Gaal’s men trailing for 85 minutes. Today’s game assumed a different archetype, with West Brom capitulating to its station, but a breakthrough never game. The problems United has had converting possession into goals resurfaced.
The best chance came late, when the returning Robin van Persie was given a chance from the spot. But just as Gerrard had initially failed to put Liverpool in front, van Persie left his team on even footing. His try into the right of goal was denied by Boaz Myhill, leaving onlookers asking why a player who has played two minutes since Feb. 21 was allowed to take Wayne Rooney’s shot.
No, for a team that went the first 20 years of the Premier League without finishing lower than third, locking up fourth has not proved easy. Liverpool has tried to pave the path, particularly after losing at home to United on March 22, but United won’t have it so easy.
With games at Crystal Palace, versus Arsenal, and at Hull City remaining, United still needs five points to lock up fourth. If the rest of this season is any indication, the team will get those five, albeit in the most infuriating way possible.