Two Zlatan Ibrahimovic goals, one in each half, set up another Manchester United victory as a 2-0 win at West Bromwich Albion was fully merited for an authoritative display from the first whistle to the last.
The Reds made a lightning start in surprisingly mild December conditions with Jesse Lingard having an early penalty claim refused after a tangle with Allan Nyom. Within five minutes, a first goal had arrived, though, with Lingard the provider as his cross from the right left Ibrahimovic with a straightforward header past Ben Foster from close range for his 15th goal of the season.
Antonio Valencia set up another opportunity from a similar area of the pitch but Wayne Rooney was unable to profit as Jose Mourinho’s men swarmed all over the hosts. Albion’s first moment of danger was supplied by their Swede, Jonas Olsson, who got a touch to a Chris Brunt corner but the ball drifted wide of the far post.
West Brom’s set-pieces were always likely to be a threat but they were fortunate when a neat move involving Paul Pogba and Lingard led to Rooney’s fierce drive being pushed onto the bar by ex-Red Foster in the 23rd minute. Ibrahimovic was then booked for flattening Craig Dawson and the Baggies started to create the clearer openings.
Brunt latched onto a Michael Carrick clearance to shoot straight at David De Gea, Salomon Rondon reached a Matty Phillips centre but failed to direct his header on target and Phillips fired well wide from a misplaced volleyed pass by Carrick. Yet it was United who should have scored again before the break when Lingard blazed a golden opportunity over the bar from inside the box as a Matteo Darmian mis-kick seemed to unhinge the home defence.
Possession: West Brom 42% United 58%
Shots: West Brom 8 United 5
Shots on target: West Brom 1 United 2
Corners: West Brom 1 United 1
The Reds made another quick start to the second half and soon doubled the lead. Pogba tried a cheeky chip when a quick free-kick left the Albion defence exposed to force Foster into a comfortable save but the keeper had no chance moments afterwards. Ibrahimovic exchanged passes with Rooney and cut inside two defenders with real intent. A firm shot deflected off Dawson and zipped into the far corner of the net to make it 16 goals for the super Swede.
Rojo and Rondon were both booked for a flare-up, although the West Brom striker could easily have seen red for appearing to slap the Argentinian, as the hosts tried to battle their way back into the game. There was also a hopeful penalty appeal when Pogba blocked a header from close range inside the area.
However, the Reds continued to hunt further goals and Pogba shot into the ground and too close to Foster following a decent run down the right by Valencia before the Frenchman clubbed a drive into the crowd. With Tony Pulis’s side held comfortably at arm’s length, there were no real scares as United made it three league wins on the spin ahead of festive home fixtures with Sunderland and Middlesbrough.
Chris Smalling also made his return from injury deep into stoppage time while another substitute, Marcus Rashford, was unlucky to be cynically impeded by Brunt after racing past the Northern Irishman on the right wing and also to see a shot blocked in the dying seconds. By that point though, the game was over and United’s job was done.
Possession: West Brom 44% United 56%
Shots: West Brom 10 United 9
Shots on target: West Brom 1 United 5
Corners: West Brom 2 United 2
West Brom: Foster; Dawson (Morrison 74), McAuley, Olsson, Nyom; Yacob, Fletcher; Brunt, Chadli (Leko 82), Phillips (Robson-Kanu 82); Rondon. Subs not used: Myhill, Galloway, Gardner, McClean.
Booked: Dawson, Rondon, Brunt
United: De Gea; Valencia, Jones, Rojo, Darmian; Carrick, Herrera (Smalling 91); Lingard (Rashford 77), Pogba, Rooney (Fellaini 84); Ibrahimovic. Subs not used: Romero, Blind, Mata, Martial.
Booked: Ibrahimovic, Lingard, Rojo