Seven wins in a row and thirteen unbeaten in all competitions for Manchester United, as their revival run continued with a toughly fought 2-0 win against West Ham on Monday night. After a two day turnaround from the controversial Middlesbrough comeback win, controversy would reign again as more bad decisions soured a tough night of football for both sides.
Juan Mata continued to underline his importance to the side, reminding Jose Mourinho of his undeniable big goal reputation and quality by slotting the first after Marcus Rashford set him up. Zlatan Ibrahimovic continued his scoring ways, scoring an offside goal that was allowed after he had a fair goal disallowed on the weekend. Some claimed it balances things out, but tell that to the teams it affects.
Nevertheless United have caught up to the teams above them and now sit on their shoulders, can they start to climb?
Mike Dean Day
Mike Dean isn’t a good official at the best of times, but Monday night saw one of his worst performances yet. A controversial incident saw him send off Sofiane Feghouli, but in Dean’s defence there are two sides to that argument. Watching the entire incident, Feghouli didn’t need to leave his feet let alone the way he did. From Dean’s perspective, Feghouli put himself in what Dean considered to be a dangerous and therefore reckless situation.
When United led 1-0, Ibrahimovic made it 2-0 when he scored from an obvious offside position.
— Adam Joseph (@AdamJosephSport) January 3, 2017
This time it was West Ham who felt the full brunt of FA incompetency. These things simply do not balance out, and with the Hammers battling to fight their way back up the table this may have cost them two points. The game was in the balance, and United put it beyond doubt when yet again the officiating was found wanting. When will it end?
The Real Rashford Stands Up
After a disappointing spell through the backend of 2016, Marcus Rashford enjoyed a sterling display at the Olympic Stadium, tearing the Hammers apart and playing a huge role in the three points his club badly needed. It was the devastation from wide that Red Devils fans loved, and badly needed.
He provided valuable width, vest and invention when the team just weren’t getting it in wide places from others. His movement, dribbling and pass for Juan Mata were absolutely superb and changed the game when it badly needed it.
With United coming back into form, it’s the right time for Rashford to get back into it himself. Now he just needs to put an end to his goalscoring drought (which dates back to his winner against Hull) and all will be right with the world.
Juan Mata is such an odd case at Manchester United. He can’t maintain a bonafide first XI spot with the team, and doesn’t get to play 90 minutes all season long, but his importance to the club cannot be understated. He has a penchant for needed goals, and even during quiet games he manages to produce a crucial assist or strike.
The Spaniard came up big again when needed, coming off the bench in a near best on ground display where Paul Pogba does not exist. However it was Mata with the huge contribution, putting away Rashford’s good work to give United the lead.
He changed the game when he came, instantly transforming United’s disjointed attack into something more fluid. It wasn’t Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s best night by his lofty standards, and it was Mata who took the Hammers defence by the scruff of the neck. They couldn’t handle him. He’s giving Jose Mourinho some brilliant dilemma’s to have as far as selection goes moving forward.
David De Gea once again looked like the best goalkeeper in world football, likely winning the three points for United when he denied Michail Antonio brilliantly when the score was 0-0. His team went up the other end and instantly broke the deadlock, and there’s no doubt their most brilliant Spaniard of all was to thank.
By his incredible standards it’s been a poor campaign, as he seemingly adjusts to not having to bail out his club a half dozen times per game. Nevertheless he has turned it around in the Christmas period, with some crucial stops and great displays. His three key stops throughout Monday’s clash were pivotal as anything else in getting a big away win.
Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones again remained solid in front of him, whilst Antonio Valencia was even better on the right side of defence. Their revitalisations are as big a credit to Mourinho as anything else he has achieved so far in Manchester.
Mourinho Gets It Right
Though his first XI let him down by not taking over the game as he would have demanded, Jose Mourinho’s pivotal changes and substitutions played a huge role in the win. Rashford and Mata were brilliant, whilst Chris Smalling’s introduction was an apt change to handle the threat of Andy Carroll.
Michael Carrick’s move into central defence was inspired when Matteo Darmian had to be pulled from left back. The Italian just doesn’t fit Mourinho’s tactical needs, and whilst he is a very capable defender and good tackler he cannot provide the much needed width the tactical system requires. With overlap and crossing necessary, Darmian just does not fit the mould. He must be stressing about his future.
Having to make five changes on a two day turnaround and being expected to claim all six points is a tough ask, but Mourinho did it. The first half was poor as the team lacked width and couldn’t break down the Hammers, but the only thing that ultimately matters is three points – and that’s what United got.
Three from three in the holiday period, and within striking distance of their rivals. Optimism is rising like a red mist in Manchester.