West Ham United 1 Manchester United 2
Sunday, 19th September 2021
by Chris Wilkerson
A quite heartbreaking final few minutes saw a battling West Ham go down 2-1 at the London Stadium to Manchester United, losing their first game of the season as Jesse Lingard scored to win his side the game mere moments before Mark Noble had a stoppage time penalty saved for the most painful of finales.An entertaining encounter though it was, it will be forever remembered for its finish. With the penalty given, the captain Noble came off the bench to take one kick. Unfortunately for his side and his manager, a tame effort was well saved by De Gea, and the final whistle went shortly after as Moyes?EUR(TM) side saw the end to their unbeaten start of the season.
It will take time for fans to be able to truly analyse this performance, the facts of the matter so obscured by the tumultuous end. The one-two of such an emotional combination as sickening a feeling as any for some time.
The game itself was a good contest between two good sides. How different it may all have been had Antonio been available, for so many of the Hammers?EUR(TM) attacks looked to be missing that last piece. There were crossing opportunities turned down, such was the lack of presence in the box. When they were fired in, anything other than a low ball was a waste. Bowen did well, making darting runs and proving a nuisance up top, but whilst he could prove a problem, he has neither the physicality nor the instincts of the man he replaced.
Not only that, but the ball came back more often. Antonio holds it up and scares defenders, changes their play. Bowen was not ever quite fast enough to force the away side to sit a little deeper, and both Varane and Maguire seemed happy to bully their more diminutive opponent.
With Bowen moving into the vacant striker?EUR(TM)s role, Nikola Vlasic got his first Premier League start for the club. He played on the left, with Fornals wide right, and was joined by Kurt Zouma in the side, the Frenchman replacing Dawson at the back for the two changes from the Southampton game.
The away side dominated the early stages, although they created little. Solskjaer is blessed with gifted individuals, but it was hard to see any pattern, any style or any clear instruction. There was one team, a team stronger than the sum of its parts, and then there were Manchester United?EUR(TM)s litany of wonderful footballers. The resilience of the former proved strong enough to weather the storm. It is this, regardless of the result, that has made David Moyes?EUR(TM) West Ham tenure so enjoyable and successful thus far.
It was the hardworking attitude across the pitch that got the home side their first chance. As Maguire tried to shepherd the ball away from Bowen, he failed to notice Benrahma supporting his teammate. The Algerian nicked the ball off his toes near the touchline and cut it back to Bowen in the box. On his left, Bowen failed to make a strong connection and his shot was blocked by Varane before it could bounce tamely wide.
Five minutes later, he was in the action again, a lovely passing move out from the back moving out to the right for Coufal to cross. The header away only went upwards, and it fell down to Bowen. On his weaker right, the forward opted for steady placement and his tame effort was comfortably saved by De Gea.
The chances gave a lift to the fans inside the London Stadium and the West Ham players, but conversely opened up a little more space for the visitors to play. There was a softer warning shot from Ronaldo before Manchester United were thwarted by Fabianski at his best.
From a corner, the header in the middle looped up and fell down to Bruno Fernandes in space, and he fired in a left footed half-volley that looked destined for the far corner, only for Fabianski to stretch himself to his fullest and tip the ball onto the post with the furthest reach of his fingertips.
It was a quite fantastic piece of goalkeeping, but soon forgotten as West Ham took the lead.
There was more than a hint of good fortune, but as Benrahma was given the ball in the middle, he looked up and saw no one coming towards him. 25 yards from goal, he attempted to bend one to De Gea?EUR(TM)s left, and wheeled off to celebrate as the ball struck Varane ?EUR" his back turned to the shot ?EUR" and flew into the opposite corner. De Gea was stranded and could only watch as the ball bounced in for a 1-0 West Ham lead with a little over half an hour gone.
The goal livened up the visitors and soon they found the threat to match their possession.
It came first from Ronaldo, fed through far too easily by McTominay. He raced away from Coufal and into the box, but the Czech defender halted his moment with a sliding challenge. Whilst the forward kept the ball and cut back as the defender slid past him, it gave the retreating Zouma the time he needed to get in his own challenge, perfectly timed and enough to stop what looked a clear opportunity to equalise.
The effort itself may not have come in, but it quickly banished the goal to the back of the mind and gave Solskjaer?EUR(TM)s side momentum that they could have let drift after conceding. That opening was the warning shot that the Hammers did not heed.
At most four minutes after the Benrahma opener, the scores were level again. Watching at home, you may have forgotten 21 other players were on the pitch, but it was the headline man who dragged his side back into the game.
After a corner was cleared out of the box, West Ham failed to fully get it away from danger, an unnecessarily rushed clearance falling to Fernandes. With time and space on the left, he curled a ball into the box and towards goal that went over both centre backs and was volleyed at goal by Ronaldo. His effort was hit hard and from eight yards out, bouncing right at the point Fabianski could get to it. The Pole could only parry and it was Ronaldo who was there to tap into the net and restore parity.
Soon after he came close again, but this time Fabianski was a match to it, getting quickly down low to make a smart stop from a very well hit effort. On the break, Vlasic came close at the other end, getting to a good Cresswell ball low into the box and trying to hit one round his defender on the move and coming close.
A tense half ended 1-1, with both sides coming back out unchanged. It was tense throughout, with both sides clearly carrying a threat and wary of what might happen were they to gamble on the attack too much.
Inside the opening minute, Ronaldo should have had another. Pablo Fornals, uncharacteristically, it must be said, passed blindly to the middle when defending deep on the right flank. His pass found Fernandes, who laid the ball through straight away into the area to his compatriot. He turned, shot, and found a flying figure of Fabianski there again, rushing off his line to swallow up the space and block the shot, with thanks from a relieved Fornals.
Whether or not that scare forced West Ham into their shell or not, the next twenty minutes of football slowly became more and more meek. It felt like West Ham were waiting for the inevitable sucker punch to come, but had accepted their fate a little early. There was half a chance for Fornals, a pass into the box the Spaniard tried to flick into goal, but the effort was weak and likely would have been far better for Vlasic coming in behind his unaware teammate.
The Croatian was withdrawn for Yarmolenko. He had worked hard, but was always on the periphery and will be frustrated he could not have more influence. That being said, the side had struggled to keep any pressure on and were having to work their hardest to stay level, and it seemed very unlike a game for the less industrious Ukrainian.
Soon the away substitutes were prepared, and whilst not underestimating the threat of Jadon Sancho, it was the other man coming on that brought that feeling of inevitability with him. As Jesse Lingard strode on, the script was really being written.
The West Ham malaise did lift, mainly thanks to Said Benrahma grabbing the ball more often. He flitted in and out of the contest, working hard and pressing well, but it felt any positives in Claret and Blue were coming from him. His range and tempo of pass outstripped anything Bowen, Vlasic, Fornals or Yarmolenko could achieve going forward.
That he went in and out of the game, that Rice could only sit deep in midfield after one lung-bursting run up the pitch and that Soucek yet again failed to offer much threat in the box is a worry. Benrahma will be more involved against lesser lights, but it is hard to argue that the two central midfielders are already looking beaten up by the year they?EUR(TM)ve had and the prospect of what is to come.
As the final ten minutes came, there was once more only one side really looking like winning. West Ham retreated, whether by choice or otherwise, but Zouma was growing more and more imperious a presence at the back.
However, all seemed lost as Ronaldo ran at Coufal in the box and went tumbling down after contact. Surprisingly, Martin Atkinson waved it away. Replays showed contact, but also showed the right back pulling out of his challenge and the former Juventus man initiating contact before flying to ground. The tantrum afterwards only enhanced the spectacle.
Seconds later, he was inches away from the last laugh. A lovely pass into the six yard box seemed destined to be poked home by the forward, only for the stretch of Zouma to beat him to the ball and clear fantastically.
Inevitably though, that script needed its story to be told, and so it was as Jesse Lingard picked up the ball on the left corner of the penalty area and looked up to see no pass. With Zouma in front of him, Lingard shifted inside onto his right and unleashed an unstoppable bullet that rifled beyond Fabianski and into the top corner. To his credit, the one-time West Ham loanee didn?EUR(TM)t celebrate, more than fair after the warm reception he received from the home fans as he entered the pitch.
It hurt, of course it did. It had to be him, but this time there was no hatred or vitriol, unlike the times of Defoe or Lampard past. It was a stinger, but soon seemed a tickle.
Ronaldo tried once more to win a penalty, diving over a Zouma challenge and throwing himself down without contact. The referee was unmoved, but kept his cards in his pockets too. It is of course not the first offence he?EUR(TM)s had go unpunished.
All hope was lost, but then the winding figure of Yarmolenko made space down the right side of the area and fired a cross into the box. Shaw went to block, but succeeded only in slapping the ball away. Atkinson was again unmoved, but this time forced to face his error on the pitchside screen. He signalled to change his decision, he pointed to the spot, and with no stoppage time remaining, West Ham had a last-gasp chance to equalise.
In the drama of Atkinson?EUR(TM)s decision, David Moyes turned to his trusted lieutenant. With 10 successive penalties scored, Mark Noble strolled onto the pitch without even a jog to warmup. As England fans will remember painfully from the summer, a cold penalty taker is not always the best, and Noble hit one of his worse ever penalties barely out of De Gea?EUR(TM)s reach and at a lovely height to deflect away.
The game was done. You will all have your own reactions, whether they be disappointment, anger, dejection or all that and more. The positives of the game, and there were some, feel lost. And some of the concerns, especially the energy in the key players, will feel heightened.
But at least we won in Europe, the Premier League is rubbish anyway.
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Player RatingsLukasz Fabianski
Some excellent saves, especially the one from Fernandes onto the post. Takes no blame for the first, it was from close range, hit hard and bounced at his toes. Even if you will criticise that, the saves from Fernandes and Ronaldo were exceptional.
Didn?EUR(TM)t seem particularly concerned by any of the Man United players, but was not anywhere near at his best going forward and didn?EUR(TM)t really impose himself at the back either. Still looks tired.
Only one of his crosses found a man, but it was clearly harder today. He was not the only one who looked up and found his options less appealing with no Antonio and Soucek sitting deeper.
Outshone Ogbonna and looked completely settled within the team in his play and as a leader. Two fantastic last-ditch challenges to stop what seemed like certain Ronaldo goals, he was strong in the air, on the ground, defending in his box and stepping up to make challenges too. A very impressive start.
The defence as a unit was strong, yet still gave away too many chances. He is never going to look panicked, he enjoys defending and does it without fuss. But didn?EUR(TM)t impose himself today.
As ever, he kept the ball well and got the side out of trouble with his running, but he was quiet defensively and didn?EUR(TM)t seem to disrupt the play and turn defence to attack today. He was disciplined, rather than one forward run, but a fitter and sharper Dec probably gets close to Lingard before he shoots and supports Zouma.
It may be that we have to get used to this as the normal Soucek game. With a front four the standard now, he has less freedom to roam and he also looks short of fitness. If he must play in each Europa and league game, Moyes will have to consider adding a third midfielder to share the load. He was strong defensively, much more active than the quiet Rice, but it takes some adjustment from the box-to-box midfielder of last year.
To his credit, he worked hard and tried to ensure he did the basics that Moyes required. But he wasn?EUR(TM)t in the game as an attacking threat enough. Possibly a better option than Bowen up front as he looks to have a selfish streak and a desire to score, and equally he may well have looked better off the right. There is more to come, and whilst he isn?EUR(TM)t setting the world alight right now, his desire to do the hard work and running is a big positive.
Less suited to the right side of midfield than the left. His lack of pace seems more evident alongside Coufal, he is keen to play inside and was limited because he was turning more onto his weaker foot. He wasn?EUR(TM)t bad, but didn?EUR(TM)t get into the play as much as usual. Constantly nibbling at anyone who thought they had time on the ball around him.
Had the beating of Fred and McTominay whenever he wanted, it seemed, and presses well too. Floated in and out of things but looked the likeliest source of inspiration when he did. Deserved the luck for his goal, although it looked to be going wide.
A generous 7, but his endeavour earned it as much as anything else. Against two mammoth and physical centre backs, he was shunted around by the pair. Yet he didn?EUR(TM)t seem to threaten in behind with his pace, which was a worry. He appears to lack a goalscoring instinct, a selfishness, and his two efforts in the area were both poor. Still, he defended from the front, worked across the pitch well and will feel a little bit of composure turns that into a headline-grabbing performance.
(Replaced Vlasic, 68) Made himself more of a nuisance and seemed to put in more running than his usual. Created the penalty and was a little less easy to push around than the others up top.
(Replaced Benrahma, 88) Most of his time on the pitch was spent watching decisions being made.
(Replaced Bowen, 90) You cannot criticise him for having the nerve to step onto that pitch and have his whole game decided by one kick of the ball. Considering how many he?EUR(TM)s scored, he?EUR(TM)s allowed to miss the odd one. Just a shame it was such a kick in the gut. Hopefully this is given no chance to tarnish his final year.
Did not play.
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Match FactsWest Ham United: Lukasz Fabianski, Vladimir Coufal, Aaron Cresswell, Kurt Zouma, Angelo Ogbonna, Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek, Nikola Vlasic, Pablo Fornals, Said Benrahma, Jarrod Bowen.
Goals: Said Benrahma 30 .
Sent off: None.
Manchester United: De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Maguire, Varane, Shaw, McTominay, Fred (Matic 88), Greenwood (Sancho 73), Fernandes, Pogba (Lingard 73), Ronaldo.
Subs not used: Heaton, Bailly, Dalot, van de Beek, Mata, Martial.
Goals: Ronaldo (35), Lingard (89).
Sent off: None.
Referee: Martin Atkinson.
Man of the Match: Lukasz Fabianski.