MANCHESTER UNITED VS WEST HAM UNITED
21.12.2013

After a more confident performance and encouraging win at Aston Villa and progress to a League Cup semi-final via a win in difficult conditions at Stoke, United returned to action with a pre-Christmas fixture against West Ham looking to build momentum as they entered a busy festive period. Talk before the game was about the whether Rooney would be fit to return to action. He started.

PERSONNEL

In:  Januzaj and Rooney.
Out: Anderson and Young.

KEY POINTS

  • Whilst West Ham were poor United’s performance was much better than in recent home game. Their forward play was fluid from the start, asking questions of the opposition with their running both on and off the ball.
  • Rooney started notionally in a classic Number 10 position, but dropped so deep that he was effectively operating in midfield for much of the game. When United were in possession Januzaj and Valencia pushed on altering the shape from a 4-2-3-1 to a shape closer to a 4-3-3. With Valencia and Januzaj both playing high and narrow this ensured that Welbeck at the front was never left isolated.
  • Januzaj faded in the second half and United began to loose their way, but there is no doubt that the youngster is a player of great potential. By the time he was substituted the game was effectively won and he had been a big part of achieving that.

FIRST HALF

United started this game in a 4-2-3-1 shape with Rooney behind Welbeck and Januzaj and Valencia to the left and right respectively. Jones and Cleverley anchored the midfield with Jones the deeper of the two. West Ham set up in a 4-1-4-1 shape with Noble playing in front of the two centre back.

west ham 1st halfUnited’s first half shape

United started this game brightly. They showed good early passing and some of their movement on and off the ball was excellent. Rooney started high but often came very deep to almost make a midfield three with Cleverley and Jones. Jones tended to stay the deeper of these players although Rooney was often as deep. Jones gave a solid defensive midfield performance throughout. Cleverley was always looking to get forward and forced an excellent one handed save from Adrian in the West Ham goal in the first few minutes. Valencia and Januzaj tended to stay fairly narrow with width being provided width on the overlap. Januzaj in particular was very mobile, popping up anywhere on the left or in the centre. The consequence of all this was that United’s shape often resembled a 4-3-3 rather than a 4-2-3-1.

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United dominated the first thirty minutes and played some excellent football. West Ham in response tended to defend fairly narrowly which meant that there wasn’t a lot of space through the middle. Welbeck tended to stay in the middle and attempted to combine well with players running from deeper. With Rooney, Januzaj and Cleverley all very mobile this worked well and on 27 minutes just such a situation resulted in the first goal through a Welbeck/Rooney combination. A clever back heel and a clever pass by Rooney created a shooting chance in a wide position for Welbeck. Boom! Good shot; Adrian in the West Ham goal should perhaps have done better. But he didn’t.

There are number of other interesting points to note during this period.

Firstly West Ham did everything in their power to try to break up the game and prevent United getting into any sort of rhythm. The Referee did very little about this. There wasn’t anything malicious, just gamesmanship. This did result in occasional period when United tended to rush the ball forward with longer balls and in those periods the game became scrappy. From a West Ham perspective this tactic worked then and was perhaps the reason it took United almost half an hour to get their noses in front.

Secondly a number of individual performances should be picked out. Rooney was excellent, dropping deep and directing and controlling the thrust of United’s attacking play. Essentially he was playing as a midfield player. He gave a great performance. Valencia, starting from a deeper and narrow position than usual was also excellent. He seemed more confident, and so more willing to run at people and provide a menacing forward thrust.

Welbeck’s movement leading the line was excellent. He contributed with link play but he also ran intelligently creating space for the runners from behind, notably Januzaj, Valencia and Cleverley.

IMG_20131222_232757    IMG_20131222_232211

Finally Januzaj was superb. He was everywhere in this half running at people in higher areas and combining well with those around him. He showed guile, football intelligence and real attacking menace. West Ham did not really get a grip of his movement throughout the first half. He got his reward on 36 minutes with a goal. Just prior to this he had seen a trip in the box go unpunished. Whilst he was booked later for diving this was a clear penalty. A minute later he demonstrated his cool, running at West Ham from the left he had the audacity to feint, drop his shoulder and shoot clinically into the opposite corner of the goal. Boom! 2-0 for a half time lead.

SECOND HALF

United started the second half as they had ended the first but before long their play became a little disjointed and they began to lose their way. Their passing was perhaps not quite as crisp as in the first half and their movement not as fluid. They were still on top but not as threatening. In many ways this sums up United’s second half display. Perhaps with a two goal lead they naturally showed less urgency.

west han 2nd halfUnited shape after substitutions

On 54 minutes Moyes replaced Welbeck with Hernandez. In terms of position this was a straight swap and little else changed. Hernandez natural movement however tends to be away from the rest of the team, playing as he does on the shoulder of the defence. Welbeck tends to drop slightly deeper and looks to combine more with those around him. As such United’s play became even more disjointed and with West Ham still forming up in a 4-1-4-1 and defending narrow despite some good approach play moves were tending to break down around the edge of the West Ham box. United just couldn’t make that telling final pass.

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On 69 minutes, Januzaj who had faded was replaced by Young. Young had an almost instant impact when he scored with a great curling shot into the top right hand corner after a fluid United move. Boom!

The rest of the half was fairly unremarkable, with the only exception being a poor cameo appearance by Buttner. He replaced Evra on 80 minutes. The least said about his display the better, but needless to say it was his mistake which created the space to allow West Ham to engineer the opportunity for Cole to score a consolation goal on 82 minutes. Thankfully this slip was not significant; at least in terms of the result.

CONCLUSION

This was a much more confident first half performance from United, characterized by excellent first movement from Cleverley, Januzaj and Valencia. Rooney gave a great display dropping deep to direct play. United lost their way in the second half as an attacking force, but they never really lost control of the game. West Ham were poor.

Januzaj faded in the second half but he showed enough here to suggest he can be as good as he wants to be. A Star man is born?