Manchester United played far too narrowly in Sunday afternoon’s humiliating 1-0 defeat to relegation candidates West Bromwich Albion, according to Arsenal legend Thierry Henry.
The Premier League great was critical of Man United’s set-up against West Brom, who had won just three games this season in the league prior to this weekend.
Henry suggested that the Reds had to have more patience on the wings before trying to exploit holes in the middle of the pitch.
United were laborious and far too predictable for most of the game, failing to cause West Brom any serious trouble by constantly going down the same paths.
“Mourinho warned us about how West Brom were going to play,” Henry began, referring to the correct prediction that the Baggies would sit back and defend deeply.
“[United] were lacking width at times. They were going too early inside. You can go on the outside and go back on the other side and then something’s going to happen and you can go inside.
“But if you don’t move the ball well, it’s difficult to move the ball straight away inside.”
Henry picked out former-Arsenal man Alexis Sanchez in particular, suggesting the Chilean was cutting inside with the ball, or with his passes, too frequently.
It’s a valid observation. United crowded themselves out of the game but consistently seeing the middle of the pitch as a route to go down and failing to stretch the West Brom defence.
“Sometimes Sanchez was inside too early, lacking a bit of width,” Henry continued. “When they started putting some crosses towards the end, they found some opportunities. It was too late.”
United were dictated in their play by West Brom. Instead, it should have United acting as the puppet masters, pulling West Brom this way and then quickly going another direction, wide or centrally, and forcing their defence to be pulled apart.
It’s often said it’s hard to defend against teams who sit back and defend deep. It’s true. But United face sides like this all the time at Old Trafford and must learn to break them down. That’s done by playing the ball quickly and stretching defences, forcing them to make mistakes.