Hero to zero for Mata; Smalling solid for Man Utd

Date published: Sunday 6th March 2016 6:36

Juan Mata: Linked with Fener

Juan Mata: Linked with Fener

Midfielder Juan Mata went from hero to zero after his match-winning midweek display was followed by a 27th minute sending off as Manchester United fell to a 1-0 defeat against West Brom.

Mata picked up two yellow cards in three minutes as United went down to 10 men, and Baggies striker Salomon Rondon scored the winner in the second half to claim the win for Tony Pulis’ side.

Here, we look at the major Manchester United talking points as they saw their top-four hopes take a huge hit at The Hawthorns.

Hero to zero for Mata

After captaining Manchester United in midweek against Watford at Old Trafford and scoring the winning goal in the 1-0 win, Juan Mata’s week took a sour turn when he was dismissed in the 27th minute after two yellow cards in quick succession.

Mata stuck a stray leg out to block a West Brom free-kick that didn’t pose any clear danger, picking up a sloppy early booking. But minutes later, Mata uncharacteristically swung a foot at Baggies midfielder Darren Fletcher in an attempt to win the ball, but the Spaniard caught Fletcher on the foot leaving referee Mike Dean with no choice but to give the midfielder his marching orders.

Mata was clearly dejected as he headed for the tunnel, leaving his team with an uphill task of playing the majority of the game with 10 men.

Rashford for Euro 2016?

After Marcus Rashford made a memorable introduction to Manchester United fans with four goal in his first two games for the club, England manager Roy Hodgson refused to rule out the 18-year-old’s chances of being called up to his Euro 2016 squad, claiming he has been “watching Rashford for two years”.

Rashford

Rashford showed more signs of his electric pace against West Brom and could have given 10-man United the lead when the ball fell to him on the edge of the 18-yard box. Rashford was forced to revert to the right wing after only 27 minutes after Mata’s red card, and he showed his versatility in a solid display when called upon to move into midfield. A shock call-up to the senior England team may not be out of the question.

Jesse Lingard for England

Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal has put faith in a number of youngsters this season, although the Dutchman has been forced to do so due to their ongoing injury crisis. But one player who has impressed on multiple occasions is midfielder Jesse Lingard, and the 23-year-old was chosen to start against West Brom ahead of £19million summer signing Memphis Depay.

Lingard has scored four goal in 12 Premier League appearances this season, only eight of which he has been chosen in the starting 11. Lingard’s form may put him in line for a call up to the England senior squad for the friendlies against Germany and the Netherlands later this month, and the United academy product could be in line for a surprise inclusion for Hodgson’s Euro 2016 squad.

Smalling a big player for United

On his return to action for United after a spell on the sidelines through injury, Chris Smalling showed how much of an important player he is to Louis Van Gaal’s side with a strong performance. Smalling kept in-form Baggies striker Salomon Rondon quiet until the 67th minute when the hitman finally broke the deadlock with a fine strike.

Smalling

Had Smalling not been on the pitch, United could have been far worse off with the partnership of Rondon and Saido Berahino posing a constant threat against the 10 men of United. With Louis Van Gaal’s side pushing for a top-four finish and hoping to progress in the Europa League when facing Liverpool in the last 16 on Thursday, the return Smalling couldn’t have come soon enough.

Champions League hopes hanging in the balance

United manager Louis Van Gaal will be bitterly disappointed to see his side fail to keep the pressure on fourth-placed Manchester City after their 4-0 win against Aston Villa. United’s loss to West Brom leaves them three points behind City, who also have the advantage of a game in hand.

United’s next Premier League game is against their arch-rivals at the Etihad Stadium, and Van Gaal will surely have to claim something from the game in order to keep their Champions League hopes alive.

In a season where almost anything appears possible, United are still well in with a shout of clinching a top-four place but there is no denying they have it all to do after a bitterly disappointing defeat.

Scott Anderson

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