If you were like me on Saturday, you may have googled “Saido Berahino” a few times in the afternoon before it set in that West Brom not only just beat Manchester United at Old Trafford, but they deserved a win. It was his first Premier League goal [Berahino] on just his fourth appearance, and how sweet it was. English fans may know him for this goal against Moldova in an England U21 matchup. But for the rest of the world, this was Berahino’s introduction.
First, we analyze the positioning of both teams at the beginning of the play, and we see WBA attempting to do exactly what Manchester City did to United last week – push up using width to pressure United’s defense. Here, instead of going deeper, we see West Brom attempt to cut in. Billy Jones, Youssouf Mulumbu, and Stephane Sessegnon are set to form a small passing triangle. With just Anderson and Nani pressuring the three, West Brom need only to accurately place their passes to beat the two.
Notably, Anderson is drawn away from the center of the pitch, leaving Michael Carrick alone to mark any possible threat. Towards the box, Victor Anichebe is marked by Johnny Evans, Rio Ferdinand is marking Berahino, and Morgan Amalfitano is far out of the screen being trailed by Phil Jones. For the most part, United’s defense has WBA’s attack marked. They are simply only outnumbered on the right-side.
We follow the pass to Sessegnon, as Jones split the defenders. Sessegnon here has found the pocket of space in between Michael Carrick and Buttner. Much of the match, Alexander Buttner gave WBA attackers space in front of him – typically this was Morgan Amalfitano – but in this case it was the likes of Mulumbu and Sessegnon. Rather than pressing the two, the United wingback allowed the Baggies room to pick out the clinical pass. Sessegnon has the option to attack the defense, but with Johnny Evans facing him, he opts to play the looping ball in.
Amalfitano picks up the movement and makes the cutting run with inside position on Phil Jones. We know Jones likes to challenge an aerial ball, but he’ll be tested here as Amalfitano will trap the ball with his feet. Also – Rio Ferdinand makes a crucial mistake here, forgetting where the rest of his defense is. He hesitates - guessing the ball may be going to his mark (Berahino). Berahino, though, doesn’t attack the ball and sits back, letting Amalfitano make the run. Ferdinand’s hesitation opens just the right amount of space in front for Amalfitano, and creates more space between him and Berahino.
A bit of statistical analysis will show the pass combination of Sessegnon to Amalfitano was West Brom’s most effective of the match, despite it still being halfway down the list of the matches’ most common combinations. It won’t matter for the Baggies, as long as one of those pass combinations resulted in a goal. Nonetheless, it means that somewhere amongst United’s defense was a chink in the armor allowing for these two to pick each other out time and time again.
WhoScored’s scouting report of Morgan Amalfitano reports first and foremost, that he “likes to do layoffs.” It appears they weren’t lying – that’s exactly what occurs.
Amalfitano forgoes any trap, and speeds the ball up. Jones has closed him down effectively. Both Carrick and Ferdinand are in no man’s land, though. That slight hesitation is now paying massive dividends, as Berahino is lying free and Amalfitano need only place a pass correctly.
Berahino has plenty of time to run onto the ball, and clearly anticipated the layoff from Amalfitano. He hits his shot with a wealth of pace, allowing it to get through both Ferdinand, Jones, and David De Gea – putting the Baggies in the lead and well on their way to an impressive win.
To the right, you see the buildup of Berahino’s goal. We see that WBA were able to play out wide, and then play a long ball into the middle of the field for a quick layoff to Berahino culminating in a wonderful finish. On this type of play, one would analyze how WBA’s players got open, and the positioning of those centrally placed attackers throughout the possession. Fortunately, for the Baggies, all of those facets to the play were executed perfectly.
Tactically, West Brom’s defense probably won this match – shutting down United’s quick passing schemes, forcing them out wide and deflecting crosses. They have t0 be commended for sticking to an attack so deep into the match, making smart runs, and earning a goal. For United, questions continue to be raised about their defense as they allow another goal that could have easily been prevented. Ultimately, a fascinating match in the books and another mesmerizing goal.