Victory in the derby a week earlier merely delayed the inevitable as Manchester United’s shock defeat to strugglers West Brom handed their cross-city rivals the Premier League title.

Jose Mourinho’s men are in position to finish as the nearest challengers, yet the question now remains of how they make the step up to compete with City.

Here Ciaran Kelly has his say on what United must do to rival Pep Guardiola’s side.

It was so quiet at Old Trafford that West Brom caretaker boss Darren Moore’s two-handed whistles could be heard. Barely 10 minutes had been played.

More than 75,000 United fans came to the Theatre of Dreams expectant after that incredible derby comeback. They expected a show as well as a win, having not won a league game by three clear goals since January.

And they were hardly asking for much. West Brom were 12 points from safety, winless in 15 Premier League away games and had scored just 26 goals this season.

Juan Mata controls the ball during the Premier League match between Manchester United and West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford on April 15, 2018
Juan Mata controls the ball during the Premier League match between Manchester United and West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford on April 15, 2018
(Image: Getty Images Europe)

If ever there was a banker, this was it. The idea of the title being lost to the Baggies was never deemed a realistic possibility. It only sinked in minutes from full-time as Old Trafford eventually emptied after Jay Rodriguez’s shock winner.

That goal summed up a desperate United display. The lack of tight marking and street smarts when defending set-pieces, two hallmarks of Mourinho’s best teams, had again hurt United for the second successive game.

There have been many low points for United this season, including defeats to Huddersfield, Bristol, Newcastle and Sevilla. Results which came when United had seemingly turned the corner. This one was right up there.

You could not pick out one half-positive other than, predictably, David de Gea who made one brilliant first-half save from Jake Livermore. Ironically, conceding that early may have jolted United into life after their previous comebacks.

This is a United side who have shown admirable spirit. In three of their last six league games, they have recovered from a losing position to beat Chelsea, Crystal Palace and, of course, City. On two of those occasions, they were 2-0 down with 50 minutes played.

When Mourinho rambled about ‘football heritage’ and leaving his eventual successor a squad with a stronger mentality, this was what he was referring to.

But every time this young team have momentum or appear to have turned the corner, they are sent crashing back down to earth by a side they really should be beating.

Paul Pogba during the Premier League match between Manchester United and West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford on April 15, 2018
Paul Pogba during the Premier League match between Manchester United and West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford on April 15, 2018
(Image: Getty Images Europe)

It is no use beating City, Chelsea or Liverpool if you can’t follow it up with the same intensity and fight a few days later against an inferior side.

Each time, too, Mourinho’s tactics were odd. Using Daley Blind as a holding midfielder in Bristol. Starting a rusty Marouane Fellaini against Sevilla. Playing three central midfielders against the Premier League’s basement boys.

Would having another £80m forward on his books really have changed his approach in those games?

When United were sweeping all before them at the start of the season and rightly earning the plaudits, Mourinho wanted to see how his ‘horses’ would cope with going behind before judging whether they had what it takes to win a title.

Even then, he had doubts about whether his side were mentally strong enough to go the distance. Another summer splurge will not necessarily change that as they look to close the gap on City, who will again outspend them, and keep Liverpool, Spurs and Chelsea at bay.

It comes down to Mourinho, his approach and the players he already has, too.

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