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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Jose Mourinho says Manchester United 'deserve to be punished' for insipid performance against West Brom

Manager frustrated after home team are beaten 1-0, a result that ensures derby rivals Manchester City are crowned league champions

Manchester United's was an anti-climax of a performance against West Bromwich Albion on Sunday. Nigel Roddis / EPA
Manchester United's was an anti-climax of a performance against West Bromwich Albion on Sunday. Nigel Roddis / EPA

Rewind a quarter of a century and Alex Ferguson was on the golf course when he discovered he was a Premier League champion for the first time.

Fast forward to Sunday and the Scot was at Old Trafford to see Pep Guardiola emulate him in two respects: the Catalan has now won the division and he, too, was playing golf while results elsewhere made his side champions without playing.

The seemingly ridiculous fact is that West Bromwich Albion, without hope or a manager, victorious just once in their previous 31 league games, won at Old Trafford. Manchester United, who had beaten the top team in the league eight days earlier in the Manchester derby, lost to the worst one.

City secured the title in strange fashion, albeit after a performance worthy of champions at Tottenham Hotspur the previous day. Perhaps it was not how City deserved to win it. Perhaps they will not care.

“They won because they were the best team,” Jose Mourinho said.

They sealed their success with five games to go. No one has done it earlier.

Perhaps it was an oddly anti-climatic end. Certainly United’s was an anti-climax of a performance.

“You don’t win titles with inconsistency,” Mourinho said, and this was everything their second-half display in their comeback at Etihad Stadium was not. “You could see the difference in the attitude to players compared to last week,” the Portuguese added.

Jose Mourinho lamented Manchester United's performance against West Bromwich Albion on Sunday. Laurence Griffiths / Getty Images
Jose Mourinho lamented Manchester United's performance against West Bromwich Albion on Sunday. Laurence Griffiths / Getty Images

They lacked urgency and inspiration, quality and a capacity to make anything happen. “I saw lots of people over the moon because we won against City.” They were complacent, he implied. “We deserve to be punished,” he added. United were.

For the second successive week, they were arguably personified by Paul Pogba. A scorer twice in the derby, he tried to punch the ball in against West Brom, was booked and then removed to ensure he did not collect a second caution.

Facing a team who had procured a solitary point from nine previous games, United mustered four efforts on target.

Ben Foster excelled with two saves from his former teammate Romelu Lukaku. But it was still an inadequate return given that, at various points, Pogba, Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez, Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford took the field.

It was little wonder that the Stretford End took to chorusing “attack, attack, attack” in the desperate hope they would be heard. As they often do, Mourinho’s United looked less than the sum of their expensive and talented parts.

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“We were masters in complication, everything was complicated,” the manager lamented.

United were incoherent. They began too cautiously, fielding three central midfielders as Mourinho, to borrow one of Arsene Wenger’s favourite phrases, had the handbrake on. They did not even offer sufficient solidity.

There were hints Albion could trouble them at set-pieces even before they struck. Then Chris Brunt’s deep corner was headed back across the six-yard box by Craig Dawson and Jay Rodriguez plunged forward to head in.

“The only way they could score,” Mourinho said.

Yet Albion showed a togetherness and a resolve that has been lacking too often. “They close every door,” Mourinho said. And the vocal fans who have had little to celebrate in the bleakest of campaigns could finally boast.

“Manchester City,” the West Brom faithful chorused . “We won you the league.”