James McClean's 10th minute encounter with Alexis Sanchez spoke volumes
James McClean was well up for West Brom's visit to Old Trafford.
It has been a frustrating season for McClean, at club level. While the Derry native has done well for Ireland, he has played under four managers [two caretakers] at the Hawthorns in the past seven months.
Tony Pulis, Gary Megson, Alan Pardew and Darren Moore, the current yet interim boss, have all held the tiller and the Baggies have suffered on shifting plates.
McClean made his 30th appearance of the season, on Sunday, but his start against Manchester United was only his 13th in 2017/18. McClean has had rough patches and purple patches but even his staunchest supporters would have to admit that his return of one goal and zero assists is not up to scratch.
With Pardew moved on, the cloud that hung over West Brom for many months appears to have followed. It may be too late to save them from the drop but, under Moore, WBA have claimed four points from their last two games.
McClean made his first club start in a month, against Swansea, last week and put in a solid performance. He followed that up with an evening better outing against United.
Playing on the left wing, was tasked with tying up Juan Mata and Antonio Valencia while getting forward in support of Jay Rodriquez and Soloman Rondon as much as possible. The winger did all that and more. When Jesse Lingard came on at half-time, McClean hounded him and cut out a couple of United forays up their right wing.
His stand-out moment of the match arrived after only 10 minutes and set the tone for his side and, by extension, United's.
Alexis Sanchez got on the ball just over halfway and was looking for that bombing run of Valencia. Sanchez was seeking to get United going but McClean was not having it. He made up a few yards and executed a perfect, ball-winning tackle from behind.
Sanchez was sent crashing to the turf but McClean was not done yet. He was straight back on his feet and finding a teammate with a pass before pressing forward for the return ball option.
McClean > Sanchez pic.twitter.com/5eSUWUovfB
— Ireland in Italia 90 (@ireland_90) April 16, 2018
Ball won, opponent bested and straight back to the game. It was repeated soon after as McClean broke well up the left wing and drew a Valencia challenge that won his team a free but, as he got a decent pass away to Rodriguez, should have been advantage to West Brom.
Again, he was straight back up and getting on with the game.
The stats have McClean down as winning one header, making two successful tackles, having a shot on target and getting on the ball plenty of times. His pass accuracy was 61% and that is something McClean would not be happy with but his team were under the cosh with only a couple of out-ball options.
The 28-year-old's performance was everything that has made him a consistent and well regarded Premier League player for the last three seasons [and before with Sunderland]. West Brom may not survive the drop but McClean has shown he is more than capable of playing at the highest level.