Manchester United 3-1 West Ham United
Wednesday, 1st March 2023
by Chris Wilkerson
An hour of good football wasn't enough for West Ham United this Wednesday evening, a promising start and the lead eventually falling to the wayside as the rejuvenated Manchester United came back to win 3-1 at Old Trafford.The Hammers were the better side for a large part of the game, but crumbled after taking the lead. Whilst there are plenty of positives to take from the game, the weakness of spirit and resolve blew them all away, and saw their FA Cup journey for the season end in the fifth round.
Said Benrahma scored a wonderful goal just before the hour-mark, but the away side soon wilted as their hosts threw in attacking changes and put the pressure on.
There were four changes from the weekend, with Areola deputising for the injured Fabianski, Antonio coming in for Ings, Emerson for Coufal and Fornals for Bowen. Those waiting to see Emerson at left back would have their chance.
Early signs were that the goalkeeping change would cause no issues as Areola made a good save from a Sabitzer drive, the goalkeeper strong on his shotstopping throughout.
The home side were fresh off their win at Wembley on Sunday, but had had to refresh their team to combat the tiredness from a packed recent schedule. Rashford started on the bench, as did Casemiro, and the pair have arguably been their two best players this season.
It was something to give West Ham a little more confidence, setting up once more in the 4-3-3 that had worked so well in the weekend win against Nottingham Forest.
This time it was spearheaded by Antonio, and the impact he had changed the dynamic. He offers more of a presence than Ings, undoubtedly, but less of the threat in and around the box.
That was keenly felt after a smart and fast pass from Fornals to spread play to Benrahma was followed by a sumptuous pass through from the Algerian, splitting the two centre backs and giving Antonio a run on goal.
He took it a little wide but had a nice angle for a shot as he made it into the area. Then came an extra touch, allowing De Gea to close the space, and he was then hit by the striker's clipped shot as he spread himself to block. Antonio should have done better.
A Soucek header than hit the sidenetting from a difficult angle from the resulting corner.
Benrahma was the best player on the pitch at this point, beating men easily, finding smart passes, clever touches and skilful ways out of pressure. His performance for an hour was as good as his fans on Twitter always think he is.
West Ham were playing very well in the spaces between the two penalty areas, but as smarter folk than I can tell you, that hasn't been a problem for the side this season. They are capable, and the passing was ever improved for the presence of Fornals in this game, but they aren't clinical.
Territory around the Manchester United box and good play in the middle zones has to amount to something, and for West Ham it either failed to end in any sort of threat, or the execution in the key stages was wasteful.
Still, Said was a joy to watch, creating a good effort from Paqueta from 30 yards, forcing a save from De Gea a minute later and rolling McTominay before being hauled to the ground and earning the Scot a booking.
He even danced a merry dance in the Man. United box, laying off the perfect pass for Emerson's overlap, but the left back's drive across the face of goal found no-one as the runners stood and watched the move themselves.
The home side were not living up to their billing, a front three of Garnacho, Weghorst and Antony just not a threat. Garnacho was lively, but handled well by Johnson, who just seems to love defending one-on-one with tricky wingers.
Their best chance came from a freekick crossed to the far post, which Maguire was allowed to win too easily. He headed back into the middle of the box, but McTominay scuffed his chance.
Antonio stung the palms of De Gea after Fornals was sharp to intercept the goalkeeper's sloppy pass out, and then Soucek wasted a chance to play Antonio through on goal moments later when snatching at a loose ball, instead hitting it against the referee, but whilst West Ham had been the better side, they went in at the break with nothing to show for it.
The biggest compliment for their performance was the sight of Casemiro coming on after the break, showing, at least, that West Ham were too good for the makeshift midfielders.
It didn't really affect the flow of the game for the first 20 minutes, as David Moyes's men continued to play with confidence and threaten their hosts.
Soucek soon had a good header saved after a Benrahma cross from the left found the big Czech at the far post, but whilst the direction was good, the lack of power gave De Gea the chance to make a good low save.
But then their reward came. As Soucek stood with the ball on the touchline on the left, he dragged it back and looked to have possibly taken it over the line. Those in red cried for a throw, but Soucek rolled it back and forth again under his feet and then flicked it down the line for Emerson.
The full back moved first as his opponents still asked for the throw, and with his step ahead, had the time to pass to Benrahma inside.
The Algerian had been pulling everything off so far, so the confidence to take on a difficult shot was justified. From the left corner of the box, Benrahma smacked it with curl across to the far corner, leaving De Gea comfortably beaten as it nestled in just below the top corner. With 35 minutes left to play, West Ham had the lead they deserved, and VAR wasn't taking it away from them.
Ten Hag reacted instantly, star man Rashford stepping up off the bench for the woeful Antony.
It was still West Ham with the next chance, this time from Fornals after Ogbonna reacted well to pass a loose ball from a freekick wide to the Spaniard.
He slapped it across goal, but again it darted just wide with no player attacking it.
The next chance was for The Hammers, too, and this one felt pivotal. As the home side brought on Lisandro Martinez at the back, the diminutive centre back failed his first test against Antonio, bouncing off him and being spun with ease to get the striker flying into the left side of the box.
With De Gea pulled wide to make the angle for the shot, Antonio had two runners up with him being guarded by only one defender.
But instead of finding the pass for the tap-in, Antonio backed himself from the angle, and De Gea saved comfortably. Maguire had set himself well to deal with the pass, but a quicker ball early, before Antonio had settled on shooting, would have made the chance easier. And still, finding either man meant they only had a defender to beat to an open goal.
From here, the game spiralled out of control.
All of a sudden, gaps opened up and the frailties began to show. From a level game where West Ham were the better side, the last 25 minutes were all about Manchester United.
Casemiro soon tested Areola with a stinging drive that the Frenchman did well to get down to and hold after the ball came through multiple bodies.
It then looked like the Brazilian had headed in the equaliser with just under 20 minutes to go. A curling Fernandes freekick from the left was flicked in by the midfielder, but VAR came to the rescue, correcting the error from the assistant. Casemiro was clearly offside.
Bowen came on for Fornals, the manager hoping to arrest the slide with a better counter attacking threat, but it didn't stem the flow. The winger has been in fine form lately, but made no impact on the game here.
The equaliser came soon after. This time, Fernandes clipped a cross to the six-yard box, curling in at goal. It flicked off a head and into the goal. Areola had come to punch, but weakly, somehow not making it out to the six-yard line. Instead it was Aguerd's header, flicked into his own goal. It was poor from the Moroccan and poor from his goalkeeper.
West Ham's game management was poor, with the manager trying to make changes to bring energy, without doing too much to completely hand the initiative to the hosts. Unfortunately, it was already theirs, and it's possible another defensive hand or better possession may have helped stem the flow.
Yet it was more of a collective failure to maintain standards, to keep the positives from what they had been doing. The mentality was wrong, collectively. The players all dropped into a panicked survival mode, and not one that helped
Casemiro could have got his goal, missing a good chance from a deep Fernandes freekick, heading straight into Areola's hands from close range.
But the winner was coming. Scamacca came on to try bring energy and ball retention when cleared, but it failed to provide either.
With time ticking away, it was the 90th minute when the inevitable winner came.
It felt wild in defence, gaps all over, not the staunch and disciplined defending that has been what Moyes's side has been built on.
As Manchester United piled on the pressure, chances came. It was a blocked Weghorst shot that gave Garnacho the opportunity to score.
The young forward had been busy throughout, but expertly marshalled by Johnson at right back. But as the ball broke to Garnacho in the box. He took a touch and opened up to curl from the left side of the box to the left. He had space from Johnson and used the defender to curl the ball around, leaving Areola with little time to see it. It nestled into the corner and ended the contest.
There was yet time for a third, a harsh margin now for a game that Manchester United really only played well in for half an hour.
This time, Aguerd tried to control a ball in his own box, but let the ball slide under his toe. Weghorst stole it, laid it back on the edge to Fred, whose shot was deflected on its way to goal and rolled in.
And that really was that.
An uninspiring end that will leave a sour taste, and possibly make many forget an hour of football where West Ham outplayed one of the most in-form teams in world football, granted they were without their star player for that period.
The positives are important, including football for Scamacca after injury and another comfortable performance with four at the back, as well as signs that Emerson will make a perfectly fine left back.
Just to solve how bad the final 30 minutes was.
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Player RatingsAlphonse Areola
Some good saves let down by very weak goalkeeping for the first goal. If you can?EUR(TM)t clear your lines when the ball is that close to you, you?EUR(TM)re either too weak or too slow to make a decision.
Did a really good job against Garnacho until the goal, and he shouldn?EUR(TM)t really be expected to be touch tight when a ball deflects from a shot in the area. A fresher pair of legs might have closed down quicker, but the finish was perfect.
An overlapping left back who does more than just cross? It?EUR(TM)s been a while! Emerson showed those positives here, making runs, looking comfortable on the ball, getting beyond Benrahma. It helped the left side flourish.
Everything crumbled around him. You?EUR(TM)d feel he?EUR(TM)d have just headed that corner clear, would have lumped the ball away for the last goal. Just simple, old-fashioned basics.
For all his usual composure, he lost his cool as things went against him and looked less and less sure of himself. The header is poor, regardless of whether Areola should be clearing out, and then he just got worse. Looks a bit uncomfortable on the right of the defence when the pressure is on.
Much the same can be said of Rice, who looked a bit lost as his team began to panic. This is where he needed to shine, but his youth seems to come through in these moments. A steady, experienced hand like Casemiro knows how to manage a rough patch, Rice needs to learn.
The midfield was having a strong game until they were really tested, at which point they crumbled. A wild booking for a sloppy hack on Garnacho was a real contrast to the swagger he had played with when West Ham were on top.
He offers good work rate and defends on the front foot, but that lack of guile can be an issue. Whilst he is starting to get in more headers, he?EUR(TM)s not converting, so the decision will have to be made whether the trade off less ability in possession is worth it.
Never really sparkled, but used the ball with more creativity than this side has been used to without him. Benrahma?EUR(TM)s pass through to Antonio in the first half was spectacular, but it doesn?EUR(TM)t come without the quick pass out wide to him form Fornals, and it?EUR(TM)s not a pass Bowen is likely to play or one Soucek could.
The game he played today is the game people have been telling you he plays all the time. Danced through defenders, made things happen, got West Ham moving forward and then scored a beauty of a goal.
Looked more threatening, closer to how he was against Everton, but let down by poor finishing. However, he offered more when tired to the approach than Scamacca did when he came on fresh.
(Replaced Fornals 74) The change didn?EUR(TM)t work, Bowen never got into the game and had no impact.
(Replaced Antonio 86) Came on as the world burned around him. Offered basically nothing.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Match FactsWest Ham United: Alphonse Areola, Ben Johnson, Emerson, Angelo Ogbonna, Nayef Aguerd, Declan Rice, Lucas Paqueta, Tomas Soucek, Pablo Fornals, Said Benrahma, Michail Antonio.
Sent off: None.
Manchester United: De Gea, Dalot, Lindelöf (Martínez 58), Maguire, Malacia, McTominay (Casemiro 46), Sabitzer (Fred 86), Antony (Rashford 58), Fernandes, Garnacho (Varane 90+3), Weghorst .
Subs not used: Heaton, Wan-Bissaka, Elanga, Pellistri.
Goals: Aguerd (og 77), Garnacho (90), Fred (90+5).
Booked: Maguire (27), McTominay (32).
Sent off: None.
Referee: Michael Salisbury.
Man of the Match: Said Benrahma.