Manchester United welcomed West Ham to Old Trafford on what was an extremely important day for both sides. United had won 20 of their 25 Premier League home games against the Hammers, last tasting defeat in May 2007.
West Ham had already won at Old Trafford this season, winning 1-0 in a League cup victory. United, fresh off of an impressive second-half display against Brentford, were eager to build on the momentum gained.
Having lost the first home Premier League game of 2022 against Wolverhampton Wanderers, the Old Trafford faithful were anticipating a performance to be proud of. 4th place in the table was on offer and if United we’re ever to nail their claim to a top-four spot, today had to be the day.
The game began in a very enjoyable manner, as both sides looked to start quickly. The early intentions were clear: move the ball fast, direct and look to gain a lead to build on.
United dominated possession and left West Ham looking to sit deep and capitalise on any misplaced passes. Much of the early exchanges were shared in the Hammers final third and this gave the home support plenty of encouragement.
The best chance of the opening 20 minutes came through Portuguese superstar Bruno Fernandes. Fernandes, operating in what appeared to be a free role, delivered an exquisite cross into the box for the oncoming Cristiano Ronaldo. Unfortunately, Ronaldo was inches away and the ball sailed marginally past the post.
The remainder of the half saw United retain the ball, creating openings but not really threatening the West Ham goal. In reverse, the visitors had little to no joy in attack and United’s defensive pairing of Varane and Maguire were calm in their play.
United would have a penalty shout in the 35th minute dismissed and the half ended goalless. It was a half in which United dominated possession, looked calm and composed in defence, and restricted the visitors to sitting with XI men behind the ball.
The games 1st shot on target came through the impressive Fred. Having received the ball just inside the box, the Brazilian unleashed a great shot toward the top corner, forcing Areola into a great save.
West Ham began to grow ever so slightly on an attacking front, and the ever-dangerous Jarrod Bowen hit the side netting from a corner. A warning sign for the home fans.
Approaching the hour mark, United were inches away from registering their first goal from a set-piece this season. Varane meeting a corner at the near post and glancing his effort marginally wide.
Marcus Rashford replaced Anthony Elanga shortly after the hour mark, and the home support were hoping that the Englishman could build upon his impressive finish in Brentford.
The game continued in a similar fashion, with United enjoying much of the ball and West Ham happy with what would be an impressive travelling point. United introduced the pairing of Edinson Cavani and Anthony Martial – the latter appearing in somewhat of an unexpected turn of events.
Their introduction sparked an impressive spell of intricate play and forced the visitors to defend even more. The game looked to be playing out to a disappointing draw when United snatched victory in the dying seconds.
The home side broke quickly through the impressive Martial, who fed Cavani down the left side – the Uruguayan timing his run to perfection. Cavani pulled the ball expertly across the goal, allowing Rashford the simplest of tap in’s. All three substitutes combining for a memorable goal.
Across the board, this was a fantastic defensive performance from the home side. West Ham were limited to very little from open play and it was a professional performance from the backline. The attack was lacking in it’s final stage, but a win was crucial and United delivered in spectacular fashion.
Five talking points
– The best defensive display of the season. The back four, particularly Maguire, were as assured as they been in a very long time. Varane, Dalot and Telles were all extremely good, but Maguire delivered a performance that many expect of him. De Gea gains that elusive clean sheet.
– Dalot impresses again. In defence, the Portuguese had 86% passing accuracy, won 64% of his duels, made 6 ball recoveries, 4 clearances and had 2 interceptions. In attack, he completed 66% of his take on’s, created 2 key chances, 2 shots on goal and had 86% passing accuracy in the final third. An extremely impressive outing.
– Maguire makes his point. On a day where he was maybe fortuitous to start, the captain certainly impressed. He won 100% of his tackles, stood firm against an extremely tough Antonio and his ball distribution was as good as any defensive outlet on show today. This was the Maguire pre-Euro’s and I hope for more of the same.
– Rashford delivers again. Following his goal against Brentford, the hope was that he’d continue to grow in confidence and develop momentum. To date, no player has scored more 90th-minute winning goals in Premier League history (four) and his overall importance to the side is again emphasised.
– The manager’s substitutions work again. There’s much made of a managers ability to harness the options on his bench. Against Villa, Rangnick was heavily criticised for a lack of movement. He’s seen a positive impact in two games since and witnessed all three of his substitute’s play a part in winning the game. Cavani will always create an opportunity, but a special mention must go to Martial. His cameo was a joy to watch: intricate build-up play, linking the attack and beautiful movement through defenders. It felt like the Tony of old.