Manchester United 1 West Ham United 0
Sunday, 14th March 2021
by Chris Wilkerson
A timid and defensive West Ham were easily beaten at Old Trafford this evening, a Dawson own goal enough to give the hosts the win at Old Trafford.David Moyes made three changes to the team that beat Leeds United; Jesse Lingard was forced to miss the game due to rules around loans, whilst Fornals was forced out of the side with injury. Benrahma was dropped to the bench as Bowen, Noble and Johnson came into a side that looked to have very little desire to attack. It will be down to your own viewpoint as to whether this was a necessary evil or a lack of belief that this side can play their normal game against the bigger sides.
Whichever way you fall, it resulted in a first half where West Ham were mostly on the back foot and ended up in a game where the side fifth in the table had no shots on target.
The energy was stripped away, and whilst the midfield was secure and the defence was hard to pass, the likes of Lingard and Fornals allow this team to win the ball back higher up the pitch and offer a threat on the counter. With that taken away from the manager, Johnson and Noble came in to defend when the ball inevitably did come back.
And it did, repeatedly, aside from an opening 15 minutes in which West Ham at least forced Maguire and his defence back to do some actual defending.
To some extent, it will be hard to judge the manager?EUR(TM)s plan as his side became poor in possession and were unable to build passes forward. And a little help from the referee would not have gone amiss, with both McTominay and Fred escaping very clear bookings by virtue of sloppy officiating.
As the hosts worked their way into the game, it was once past that 15-minute mark that they took complete control, control they did not relinquish until the hour mark and after they had scored.
They had chances too, for all West Ham's defence did to hold them at bay. Rashford was guilty of an awful header when free from six yards, Greenwood picking him out at the far post with a delightful cross, only for the England forward to direct it softly wide under no pressure.
The ball just kept coming back, whether through long clearances mopped up or poor passes seeing West Ham dispossessed. It was far too often that all eleven players were within 25-30 yards of their own goal.
Relentless pressure led to more chances. This time Greenwood was thwarted by a quite magnificent save by Fabianski, Manchester United pouring forward through the middle and Greenwood eventually receiving it with only Dawson ahead of him. He created space to curl the ball into the corner, only for the Pole to get down at speed and tip the ball with his fingertips onto his own post and behind for a corner.
Still, West Ham's resistance held strong going into the break, with the manager Moyes looking less than pleased with his side as they went in.
The changes he made during the interval were tactical, going to a back four rather than the back five they started with, moving Ben Johnson to a right wing position he looked uncomfortable with and Bowen to the left, isolating Antonio further. It did little to change the pattern of play, and soon Moyes and his side were punished for their subservient display.
It came from a corner that arguably never should have come to be, Dawson letting a drilled cross go past him at the last second forcing Coufal to poke the ball behind on the stretch with Rashford lurking.
The whipped in ball flew towards the mass of players on the six-yard line. McTominay rose to meet it and could only flick it on. Unfortunately for the Hammers, his flick cannoned off the head of Dawson and into the back of the net to give Manchester United a deserved lead, or West Ham a deserved deficit.
It forced changes from the bench, Benrahma and Lanzini coming on with half-an-hour to go and a game of football breaking out as finally West Ham looked to test their opponents?EUR(TM) defence. They huffed and puffed to little avail, and this report will be short as the game drifted with little incident or moment of note.
Those who feared this West Ham side being exposed by Manchester United on the counter will point to another fantastic Fabianski saved from a Fernandes effort and a Greenwood shot that smashed the post as evidence in favour of the defensive approach.
But that last 30 minutes proved we could hold the ball against them, and even though they sat off, Moyes maybe saw a glimpse of a side that is better with a threat than just containing. Lanzini played well, carrying the ball forward and linking play, but his touch in the final third was missing.
The one good move came from Benrahma and Lanzini down the left, eventually working it to Soucek in the area. He had a little space for the shot, but the ball rolled to him slowly and gave the defenders time to smother his effort.
Late crosses and set pieces came to nothing and, just like the Liverpool game, it feels a missed chance to beat a side we are in direct competition with. The message from the teamsheet and opening 60 minutes was that Manchester United are not a rival on the pitch, even if they may have been in the table.
Dean Henderson was not forced into a single save, Luke Shaw had the freedom to attack at will and, whilst excellent, it was too easy for him to go on the attack. He was never a second concerned with what was behind him.
The players themselves were poor, although it can be argued that does little to defend Moyes as he is the one who prepares them. In the end it was a dull and quite sad 1-0 loss, and another meek defeat at Old Trafford to go along with the 14-year wait since our last victory there.
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Player RatingsLukasz Fabianski
Two absolutely fantastic saves were allied with good punching, smothering low crosses and a performance that suggests the goalkeeping slot will stay his for another season.
Did well considering the pace he was up against and the ease of which numerous players flooded forward. Beaten for pace more times than usual, but then it was an endless stream of attack so it makes it more likely.
Looked lost in the system, especially in the second half where he spent about as much time looking to his manager for guidance as he did on the actual game.
He was tested a little more defensively, but he was also the only player in defence or attack who looked to press onto his opponents and take the ball back. Ran out of defence a few times to great success, in particular when his driving run forced McTominay to foul him. Diop is good against fast attacks that play on the deck and it was proven today.
He was doing ok until the goal, which was arguably a situation caused by him and then a little unlucky to head it into his own net.
Delivery was off on all his crossing, whilst there were times when Dan James went around him with such ease. However, some of his back post heading was vital defending.
His attacking game was off, his radar in the final third not working, but he did a good job defensively, especially in the last half hour as we tried to open up. Retrieving the ball, winning it back and positioning to shield the defence allowed us to push on.
Made the effort to get into attacks and back to battle in the middle, but his passing was a little sloppy and he was restricted by the way we played.
He did reasonably well in the first half, but his place in the side was a problem. It left us with no outlet, no one really becoming part of the attack and a system where the best he could achieve was rugged defending. His positioning was good, he patrolled well defensively, but never got on the ball to play the passes he needs to make to be worth his place in the side. He did fine, he was a victim of the manager today.
Worked his socks off in a quite ridiculous role that saw him defending down the right like a wing back, whilst also the man who was meant to be up front alongside Antonio to help. Kept going throughout, did try to get shots off and carried on with a thankless task.
Another who was a victim of the way we played rather than his own failure. There were moments he worried the defenders, and he worried them all whenever he got near them, but it was rare that he could have any influence over the ball.
(Replaced Johnson, 62) There are a lot of laments for Benrahma, people who claim the manager can?EUR(TM)t trust him or wish the money had been spent elsewhere. It?EUR(TM)s criticism of a player for not being a defensive option, but must he be? He works hard in the opposition half and does work back, just not with the discipline of Bowen and Fornals. But then both of those often look a little tired in the final third, and Benrahma would have helped us retain possession and offer a threat. He did when he came on, dribbling well and linking with Lanzini. His crossing was poor though.
(Replaced Noble, 62) Probably our best outfield player in that he changed how we played and again proved how effective he can be as a bridge between midfield and attack. 100% pass accuracy is little surprise, it?EUR(TM)s just a shame that he couldn?EUR(TM)t get his feet or his mind in order when he found the Manchester United box.
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Match FactsWest Ham United: Lukasz Fabianski, Vladimir Coufal, Ben Johnson, Issa Diop, Craig Dawson, Aaron Cresswell, Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek, Mark Noble, Jarrod Bowen, Michail Antonio.
Sent off: None.
Manchester United: Henderson, Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw, McTominay, Fred, Greenwood, Fernandes, James, Rashford.
Subs not used: Grant, Bishop, Bailly, Telles, Williams, Tuanzebe, Matic, Diallo, Shoretire.
Goals: Dawson (og 53).
Booked: Wan-Bissaka (35), McTominay (49), Rashford (76), James (90+1).
Sent off: None.
Referee: Chris Kavanagh.
Man of the Match: Lukasz Fabianski.