In what has to be seen as a rebuilding year (though like with the Montreal Canadiens that club would never admit to rebuilding as for the fans that would not be acceptable) it has to be admitted that Manchester United is having a decent campaign. They have only lost 4 games so far this season in league play and sit in 4th place overall in the Premier League. The top four spots in the league are the most coveted as they are the clubs that will be eligible for Champions League play and the big money that comes with it for next season. For most clubs this would be seen as an accomplishment while in Manchester it is expected. Manchester has played well, but fans are still waiting for a ‘wow’ performance from the side. On the positive side they are not losing very many games and have really cut down the goals against from last season.
Though he has had plenty of success in the EPL over his career, fixtures against West Ham might be Manchester United’s captain Wayne Rooney’s favourite. He has 7 goals at Upton Park and 12 goals total against West Ham. The same warm, fuzzy feeling is probably not held by West Ham vis-à-vis Manchester United though. The two sides have a long history of games as this was their 38th meeting in the Premier League with West Ham only managing 4 wins over the years. West Ham’s coach Sam Allardyce has only 2 managerial wins against Manchester in 23 games (while at the head of different clubs).
Coming in off two league wins all the pressure would be on the visiting club from Manchester. Despite the fact that they were the visitors Manchester was the favourites and have shown good form on the road this season with 3 wins and 3 draws in their last 6 road games. Clad in their white and black kits while the home side wore their typical claret and blue, Manchester United matched their opponent’s formation by starting playing a diamond in the midfield. West Ham was a little thin in different areas due to injuries. Striker Andy Carroll did not pass the fitness test so was not in uniform and the team’s two starting central defenders were both out with hamstring injuries.
To start there was a bit of sloppy play with the players on both sides looking like they needed a little time to settle down. The home side was the first to start creating offensive chances. In the 14th minute Enner Valencia, who seemed everywhere the whole game until he was substituted late in the 2nd half, took a shot from a central position from about 21 yards out that tested David De Gea. De Gea had to dive to the ground to his left to bat away the low, hard shot. The ensuing West Ham corner taken by Stewart Downing also caused some worry for Manchester United fans as there was a scramble and the ball came to Valencia. He tried to lob a volley into the top part of the net forcing an acrobatic De Gea to parry it over the crossbar.
West Ham controlled most of the 1st half in large part because their offensive players were successful in putting pressure on the Manchester back four whenever they got the ball. It caused plenty of problems for the team in white. Manchester United wasn’t able to get into any sort of rhythm due to the effective pressure by the Hammers. The only sort of chance that Manchester managed in the 1st half was a shot by midfielder Angel Di Maria in the 41st minute when his shot from 22 yards out was right at West Ham keeper, Adrian.
In the first half Manchester United was having some coverage problems and it continued into the 2nd half. West Ham is a big, physical side that scores more than their share of goals from set pieces and with their heads. Any team playing them has to be aware of this. Not long after the restart in the 49th minute when West Ham was awarded a free kick. It was on the left hand side of the pitch and about 30 yards out. The kick was taken by Mark Noble. He played it into the penalty area and the ball came off of Rooney to Cheikhou Kouyaté. Showing a high level of skill Kouyaté played ball to himself, swiveled and volleyed the ball into the net.
The diamond formation in the midfield was working for one side (West Ham) and not the other. It was plainly easy for West Ham to defend against and so it was up to Louis van Gaal to make a change.
After van Gaal took out midfielder Adnan Januzaj in the 72nd minute and inserted a player with height in Marouane Fellaini, it took a bit though finally it looked like Manchester United began to kick up their game a notch. It would make for an interesting finish.
In the 77th minute Manchester United created their best scoring chance of the game. Defender Marcos Rojo played a long ball up the field to striker Falcao. He quickly laid the ball off to Robin van Persie. A quick 1-2 ensued and Falcao was behind the West Ham defense. He could not finish, however, stabbing a shot wide of the net. Falcao really should have scored. It seemed like Manchester United would rue that missed chance until injury time.
The fourth official put up the sign indicating there was to be four minutes of added time and it took two of those for Manchester to level the game. Once again it began with Rojo as he played a hopeful ball into the Hammer’s penalty area towards Fellaini. A poor clearance by fullback Carl Jenkinson fell to Daley Blind, who had been getting more up the field in the 2nd half. No mistake was made this time at the Dutchman hammered the ball first time with his left foot.
There were two minutes left, but neither side could score a winner. The only thing of significance was that Manchester fullback Luke Shaw got his 2nd yellow card of the game which resulted in a red meaning he will be suspended for the next game and his team had to finish with 10 men.
Manchester United had won 11 of the last 12 games against West Ham. They have only lost once in their last 16 league games. This was not one of their more stunning performances and they were actually quite lucky to come out of it with a draw. West Ham cannot be taken lightly, especially at home where they have lost only once in their last 11 games, as they are a much improved side from last season. They spent the money they had well.
With the single point Manchester United stay in 4th place and even go one up on Tottenham. They did not really deserve the point and were disjointed offensively through much of the game.
Manchester United next game is on February 11th at home against bottom of the league Burnley whereas West Ham will play on the same day away at Southampton.
-Referee: Mark Clattenburg
-Goals: 2nd Half:
49th minute: West Ham – Cheikhou Kouyaté
90th + 2 minute: Manchester United – Daley Blind
-Shots on Goal: Manchester United – 6
West Ham – 6
-Corners: Manchester United – 9
West Ham – 9
-Man of the Match: Cheikhou Kouyaté
-Final Score: Manchester United – 1
West Ham – 1