Thierry Henry has noted that Jose Mourinho was clearly wary of the potential danger posed by the West Bromwich Albion game over the weekend.
The 55-year-old stressed ahead of the game that he had been implementing extra measures in training to keep his players at the right tempo following the 3-2 win over Manchester City.
But the attitude on the pitch was all wrong: Man United’s tempo was flat and they struggled to penetrate all game, with James Rodriquez delivering the sucker-punch after 72 minutes to condemn the hosts to just their third defeat at Old Trafford this season.
Speaking after the game, Henry pointed out that Mourinho had predicted a game like this during the week.
“Mourinho was trying to calm the players down and he has experience,” he said. “He saw that result way before we saw it. He had a feeling that he needed to speak to the players during the week.”
“He told them be careful, it is going to be different against West Brom, and I go back to Pogba: Why didn’t you and the rest of the team do what you did against City all season?
“West Brom outworked them; they wanted to go out and hurt them. After 10 minutes, I turned and there was a weird atmosphere and I could only see West Brom scoring.”
There was an unquestionable feeling of United, following the highs of the weekend before, struggling to find their feet again at Old Trafford. The home crowd – and players – seemingly expected the ball to go in during the first 30 minutes and the tempo was flat as a result. There was no impulse, no direction, no collective purpose – just superior players expecting their superiority to eventually pay off.
When it didn’t, they started to panic slightly, overcompensating on the ball and often snatching at final passes. Mourinho spoke in the aftermath of some players being ‘on the moon’ following victory at the Ethiad and there was a palpable feeling of disconnect on Sunday, setting in motion a panicked – and ultimately fruitless – second half.
The mental – as well as tactical – approach to the game was wrong from very first minute, and United will need to learn from it quickly.