VAR once again stole the headlines as a Bruno Fernandes penalty ended Manchester United’s Old Trafford woes.
If Manchester United fans were hoping for a rampant display to welcome back the Premier League and thrust aside the Old Trafford shakiness, this was certainly not it.
As the build-up to the fixture grew, there was justifiable hope among fans of a performance akin to the 5-0 drubbing of RB Leipzig here almost a month ago. Both Chelsea and Spurs had laid down marquee performances earlier in the day, and there was a first Premier League start for Alex Telles, who had left fans drooling after his sole appearance before his positive COVID-19 test.
This anticipation was very almost instantly rewarded when after only 100 seconds, Anthony Martial’s glancing header drew a fine save from United academy product Sam Johnstone. Another Martial effort on 20 minutes produced an even more impressive save from the West Brom ‘keeper, and soon the inevitable Old Trafford nerves set in.
The away side grew in confidence as United waned, and before long a resurgent David De Gea was called into action. Palming away a Karlan Grant shot, he then watched as a Kyle Bartley header sailed over his head and inches over the crossbar.
Then VAR took over.
Mere minutes after kick-off, David Coote pointed to the spot for a West Brom penalty after Fernandes caught Gallagher’s shin in the penalty area. Coote himself went to watch a replay that suggested that Fernandes had made contact with both the ball and Gallagher’s shin – perhaps a 50/50 call, but certainly not a ‘clear and obvious error’ for the original decision. Nevertheless, the penalty was overturned.
If neutral viewers were left with a sour taste after that decision, then their palate was to be embittered even further by the next.
Juan Mata’s curling cross a drew a handball from Furlong, and Coote pointed straight to the spot for a United penalty. Johnstone met Fernandes’ resultant effort with a diving hand, but the visitor’s relief was short-lived. VAR intervened against the Baggies’ favour once again, as the fine save had come with the help of a clear step off the goal line.
The penalty was retaken, and Fernandes (pen) lit the scoreboard once again.
Slaven Bilić’s men may have felt hard done by, but they did not give up the fight. A stunning Callum Robinson curler thumped off the bar, while Johnstone continued his strong showing between the sticks as he repelled numerous United efforts.
The goal, and subsequent introductions of Edinson Cavani, Donny Van De Beek and Scott Mctominay did little to improve United’s showing, and come the final whistle there was a collective sigh of relief at the 1-0 scoreline.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær has finally got his Old Trafford win, but it was by no means convincing. Many questions remain for a team that has demonstrated brilliance against Europe’s biggest teams, yet seems to rely on Bruno Fernandes to pull through domestic fixtures.
With a chance for both revenge and qualification to the knockout stages of the Champions League awaiting against Istanbul Basaksehir on Tuesday, United fans will be hoping for a vintage performance to bring excitement back to Old Trafford.