Pogba spot kicks help United 'get away with it'

Paul Pogba celebrating scoring his second penalty in Manchester United's 2-1 Premier League defeat of West Ham at Old Trafford on Saturday.
Paul Pogba celebrating scoring his second penalty in Manchester United's 2-1 Premier League defeat of West Ham at Old Trafford on Saturday.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitted Manchester United "got away with it" after West Ham, 2-1 losers to a pair of Paul Pogba penalties, were on the end of a series of questionable officiating decisions.

United remained outside the Premier League top four ahead of tomorrow's Champions League clash with Barcelona, who left Lionel Messi at home amid 10 changes in a 0-0 draw at bottom side Huesca with the Spanish title nearly in the bag.

Since Solskjaer was appointed permanently last month, they have struggled to find the form that fuelled an 11-match unbeaten run when he took over on an interim basis in December.

They saw off Watford, their only other success in six games since the remarkable comeback win over Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16. But they lost successive matches to Wolverhampton and Barcelona, 1-0, in the quarter-final first leg at home without a shot on target.

Worryingly, at Old Trafford on Saturday, they also had less possession (45 per cent) and fewer shots (two versus four) than the Hammers in a laboured display.

"We got away with it. Sometimes you get more than you deserve and today is one of them," said Solskjaer. "Watford was one of them. We were lucky it wasn't Barcelona, but West Ham played well."

They could have been one down early. Replays suggested Felipe Anderson had a goal wrongly chalked off for offside, with Diogo Dalot playing him on before Pogba gave United the lead.

That 19th-minute goal came from a penalty whose award was also questionable, as Juan Mata may have gone down outside the box and Robert Snodgrass' challenge on him may have been fair.

After Felipe Anderson equalised on 49 minutes, United's winner came via Pogba's second penalty 10 minutes from time, following the Frenchman's pass to Anthony Martial, who was then tripped.

West Ham boss Manuel Pellegrini suggested Marcus Rashford got a touch on the pass and was offside doing so but replays showed this was not the case.

"A few mistakes but the decisions went for United. Unfortunately for us there were some decisions, very difficult, so I am not complaining about the referee. With VAR, I am sure we would win the game 1-0."

"Felipe Anderson was onside. It was not a penalty from Robert."

Solskjaer said that United would have no chance if they were as flat at Barcelona, who have won 27 of their last 30 Champions League home matches and drawn three. They have never lost to the English side at their Nou Camp ground in Europe's top club competition but the Norwegian is not giving up.

"We know it is going to be a very difficult game but we beat PSG," he said. "It will be a greater achievement if we can manage it against Barcelona. We will go there, why not have a go but we have to be better defensively."

Barca have 74 points with six games left, even as their lead was cut to nine points after Atletico Madrid beat Celta Vigo 2-0.

At Huesca, goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen was the only starter at United who remained, as a trio made their LaLiga debuts.

Messi, whose nose was bloodied after being struck in the face by Chris Smalling, did not travel. Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets were also rested while Gerard Pique and Luis Suarez were suspended.

Coach Ernesto Valverde was "happy in general with the game, though we could have been more ambitious in attack".

Arturo Vidal was happy to admit that their minds were more focused on going beyond the last eight in Europe for the first time since 2015.

"The Champions League is what everyone is dreaming about," said the midfielder.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 15, 2019, with the headline 'Pogba spot kicks help United 'get away with it''. Print Edition | Subscribe