WEST HAM UNITED VS MANCHESTER UNITED
22.03.2014

United’s season has been a tale of one step forward, two steps back. So a visit to a team which lives mainly for the occasional victory over United (United have lost none of the last 10 top-flight games against West Ham, winning nine), face a reds side attempting to build on Wednesday’s morale boosting win.

PERSONNEL

In: Buttner, Mata, Fletcher, Fellaini, Young and Kagawa.
Out: Evra, Ferdinand, Welbeck, Giggs, van Persie and Valencia.

KEYPOINTS

  • Carrick brought a direct and forward thinking ball from the back.
  • Fletcher provided a useful screen to the potentially fragile back pairing but West Ham’s performance saw little in the way of a threat.
  • West Ham were predictable in their approach – long ball to Carroll.
  • Despite this, United’s defence still looked vulnerable – Jones needs to develop patience, Buttner should be more clinical and Rafael needs to resist the temptation to dive in.
  • Mata and Kagawa brought a fluidity to United’s play.

FIRST FLOOR

United were under a degree of early pressure from West Ham’s expected approach of punting the ball to Carroll, as the teams found their footing, both into a 4-2-3-1.

Screen shot 2014-03-24 at 11.35.05

Boom! This approach was punctuated spectacularly with a goal from captain Rooney; a volley from around the halfway line. What should be noted was Young’s involvement and the indication to United’s set up, the counterattack.

Screen shot 2014-03-24 at 10.25.59

The speed at which Young followed his clearance into the space made available by the advancing McCartney was pleasing and it provided Rooney with an option. Although it was one he decided not to take!

United have suffered from injuries and suspensions so perhaps the inclusion of Carrick as centre back was no surprise. What he did do though was introduce a directness in getting the ball forward, notably to his right, helped with him being right footed obviously!

Screen shot 2014-03-24 at 10.09.14

In front we saw Fletcher and Fellaini. The latter was more mobile and in an attacking capacity he occupied Collins with his aerial presence. Yet whilst his passing has improved from previous games it’s his quality of pass when in key positions which is sub par. There’s no control with the lay off. This needs improving.

Rafael is committed and that’s admirable but his positioning, either upfield or inward leaves him exposed (Bayern beware). It also leads to him putting himself under pressure in trying to recover his positions. His tackles aren’t always clean and this game was no different as can be seen in the graphic below.

Screen shot 2014-03-24 at 10.35.47

The counterattack was quick but only in how quickly the ball arrived at Rooney. With both Mata and Kagawa roaming somewhat, catching up meant Rooney or Young had few options passing options early on. Although, when United were pushing on their right wing outlet, Young, needed to improve his final ball.

Screen shot 2014-03-24 at 11.33.42

As the second third of the half progressed United morphed from the 4-2-3-1 to, at times a 4-4-2 or even a 4-1-4-1, with Fletcher as the one. This was at the same time as Carroll moved out onto Rafael. The bully boy tactics didn’t work as Rafael did OK but West Ham’s reliance on Adrian feeding Carroll the ball was poor. They were the top pass combination in the game.

This cannot be passed over without comparison to de Gea. The young Spaniard can be seen playing the longer ball much more this season and usually without great success.  This is one way of covering a greater area on the pitch but needs to be more calculated and controlled. We saw a couple of glimpses of this, the ball trapped dead by Mata being a great example.

Screen shot 2014-03-23 at 06.56.17     Screen shot 2014-03-23 at 07.09.58

Boom! United were now 2-0 after a neat ball from Mata through to an on-running Rooney who fed it wide to Young who in turn fizzed it into the box seeing Noble unable to clear leading to Rooney’s second goal.

West Ham now retreated to a 4-5-1 and it was good football versus bad football; counterattack versus the long ball.

West Ham afforded United so much space and the lack of a press saw them close out the half easily.

SECOND FLOOR

United came out in a very fluid manner and the roles of Kagawa and Mata were a joy to watch. The obvious move for Mata following van Persie’s injury will be fascinating over the coming weeks. We cannot wait for the way he and Rooney combine against the centre back pairing of Dante, Boateng and/or van Buyten (depending on who Bayern play there).

West Ham needed more adventure and as such took Diame off for Jarvis and C. Cole for Nolan. West Ham were now 4-4-2 with Downing and Jarvis wide, Cole and Carroll centre. This was to test United’s full backs but it was the way Carrick handled this pressure which brought the greater admiration. There was an element of United sitting back which invited further pressure on as Fellaini spent more time alongside Fletcher.

The defence worked well and the number of clearances (below) was pleasing but the key is to resist the attack further up the pitch for the reason we discussed earlier.

Screen shot 2014-03-24 at 11.20.14

As the game wound down Hernandez and Welbeck came on for Mata and Rooney, with Hernandez up top alone in a 4-5-1. In this short period we saw some pleasing defensive work from Kagawa and the importance of Fletcher – a key presence in front of the defence.

CONCLUSION

United managed to keep another clean sheet which was most pleasing. This was against the backdrop of the West Ham having failed to score in six of their last nine Barclays Premier League games against United whilst also averaging the fewest shots on target per game this season; 3.2 per game.

So the gamble by Moyes for Carrick in defence was perhaps a calculated one and it worked.

Setting up for the counterattack was the right approach (easy to say in hindsight yes) but West Ham were impotent and soft too. If things don’t go their way they weren’t up for the fight (their fans included); they made United’s afternoon very easy.

It was a delight to see Mata behind Rooney but work is still needed on that partnership. Consider the upcoming derby. Kompany has had Rooney in his pocket on a couple of occasions but maybe with Mata involved then a more fluid approach needs building on top of this West Ham performance. Kagawa played well and the fact that he featured in four of the top 7 United passing combinations shows how well he keeps things ticking. Unfortunately, we can imagine that he won’t feature on Tuesday as Moyes may go for Welbeck instead.

Well done reds. Bring on Tuesday!