After the putrid watch these two teams served up a month ago, not a lot was expected in this game. In the solitary goal being an own goal, you would think that it was just as bad as that but at least this one had many chances to actually make the scoreline more colourful. A Bruno Fernandes corner was diverted in off Dawson’s head past Fabianski. The woodwork was worked twice from the boot of Greenwood, one pushed onto it by Fabianski and the other an almost unerring strike. Rashford should have had a goal but once again, a closed eyed attempt at a header meant it went wide. Bruno was denied by Fabianski as well. While West Ham had more than 7 attempts, none troubled Henderson, who kept a 10th clean sheet in 17 games in all competitions. The win now puts 9 points between the two teams, the London club having played a game less. If all things go well, United may have just about sown up Champions League football for next season but who knows what this strange season can offer up next.
When your expectations play out in reality, there can be some comfort in it. When the expectations are based on negativity though, it brings an air of boredom that is unmatched by any other type of boredom. With a Moyes managed West Ham United, you would have been crazy to expect them to come out flying and leave spaces all across the Old Trafford pitch. These type of teams, employing low blocks with a back three, have been a sturdy test for Man Utd this season, either just creeping over the line or not doing so at all. What’s more, the composition of the XI on the pitch does not lend itself well to breaking down a defensive team. It has been dissected every which way in these weekly match reviews but when the combination of players is the same or similar to what we saw out there today then you see the problems it poses. When speaking about the incapability in penetrating stubborn rearguards, the pair of Fred and McTominay will invariably come up. For the marginal defensive solidity they provide, which is just more of a consequence of them playing within the limits, they take much more away with their incision going forward. Wan Bissaka’s interpretation of passing a football gets even more interesting with every passing week, not in a complimentary way. Lindelof and Maguire while comfortable on it, aso aren’t the greatest progressors but they shouldn’t have to be and it is only exemplified by the lack of it in front of them. Whereas Bruno Fernandes and Rashford placate their lack of ball retention with productivity and flair, James fails on that front. If not for Shaw and Greenwood, West Ham would have been hardly tested today. Funnily enough, they were the two most technically secure starters in the team.
Once the breakthrough was made through Dawson’s own goal, you then saw how it is a two edged sword when it comes to not being able to rely on the majority of the starting XI to comfortably play the ball under pressure and through tight spaces. Because as West Ham grew into the game, in a more offensive sense, you saw that United found it hard to stem their new found adventure by just keeping the ball away from them. Top teams will never ever control a game from minute 1 to minute 90, especially when games hang in the balance on solitary goals like it did for the majority of the second half. That’s why having the ability to just take the sting out of it by playing it around is so important. When United have been stung so many times by late goals under Solskjaer through both their inability to kill games and then seeing out games with assurance, you see why. What can be done? Well, there have bee teams who have found it difficult in breaking down teams before – Chelsea 13/14, City 16/17 and Liverpool 17/18. They found the formula the next season, each in their own ways. Mostly, this was through investment. Another side that had this issue was United 17/18. We all knew what happened afterwards. I’ll leave that up to you what I think we’ll need to do.
It wasn’t quite rope-a-dope from West Ham in the first half but they didn’t lay a single glove on the United backline. Considering the threat of Antonio, Bowen and Soucek, it was quite surprising and reminiscent of the FA Cup 5th round that the less said about that, the better. As aforementioned, once they went behind, Lanzini and Benrahma came on, to which they responding by becoming turquoise streams of attack. So it would need the United backline to stand up to the test, a test they have regularly failed when they have been faced with this situation, often giving away cheap goals that consign us to taking 1 point rather than 2. In doing so, Maguire was excellent. In the cuter, more progressive aspects of defending, he may leave a bit to be desired but it wasn’t the type of game where he would be facing much of that and when he is tasked with doing the typical defending, the type that is well reflected on the stat sheet. He was constantly in the way of things when West Ham tried to venture in dangerous areas of the penalty area. Constantly in the way of things when West Ham would be try to make efforts on Henderson’s goal. Constantly in the way of things when crosses where being pumped into the area from the wide areas by the Hammers. It was a good performance from the captain in this tight affair.