WEST HAM UNITED vs MANCHESTER UNITED
08.02.2015

Historically United have a good record against West Ham and club captain, Rooney, has an equally good goal scoring record. It remained doubtful however, whether he would be able to add to that in this game as van Gaal continues to playing him deeper than usual and there was no suggestion in the build up to this game that there would be a change in that.

PERSONNEL

In: Shaw, Jones, Valencia, Januzaj and Falcao.
Out: McNair, Smalling, Evans, Mata and Fellaini.

KEYPOINTS

  • Allardyce’s point about United’s long ball tactics are invalid; the statistics show West Ham played 28 long passes from inside their half compared to United’s 21, with a third of these clearances from headers in the box.
  • West Ham targeted Shaw with their long balls, he won 8 of 9 headers and he was required to make a number of interceptions as well.
  • United’s corners need to improve. This holding up of two hands when taking them can only signal one thing, poor corner coming in.
  • Falcao and van Persie were largely ineffective and made little impact in the 18/6 yard box.
  • Van Gaal changed it with the Fellaini substitution. This pressed West Ham back and United took the game further up the pitch.
  • The ability to make an opponent fear that you may be able to score right up to the final whistle is an ability not to be underestimated; to remain undefeated you can never allow yourself to be mentally beaten.
  • The top performers were United’s defence, de Gea included.

FIRST HALF

United were deployed as a 4-4-2 diamond, albeit with Shaw and Valencia booming on, United encountered a lively West Ham side whose formation was less obvious; changing depending on whether they were attacking or defending. As expected without Carroll they were narrow with the pacey E. Valencia and Sakho up front in a formation that changed from 4-4-2 to a 4-3-1-2 with Noble tucking in, in front of their defence.

United player influence over the course of the game and first half player line up

United player influence over the course of the game and first half player line up

Despite not having Carroll, West Ham still threw a number of crosses into the box which de Gea, United’s standout player dealt with well. The supply came down the left with Downing (who often cut in) and Cresswell overloading; this may explain why van Persie was regularly seen out wide closing down the left back.

Falcao and van Persie were not in the game in the first half. Three concerns persist: their lack of pace, their ability to retain possession and their poor combination work. Compare this to the opponents strikers who were livelier and better balance in their positioning. Falcao and van Persie played better vertically than horizontally. Their ineffectiveness on the counter-attack was inevitable ass they were stationed on the posts at corners and not up front awaiting the break.

The first 15 minutes saw West Ham take a 4-1 lead in the corner count and this reflected the early balance of play. As an outlet di Maria was usually too deep to be effective and was not able to stretch the pitch.

United had a poor half and the only element of joy came down the left from Shaw and Januzaj which, and this lasted no more than 5 minutes, it was just a little light relief and came as a consequence of Noble coming more central leaving space which United didn’t really exploit to great advantage.

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The half ended with United taking their first shot on target through di Maria and as a double positive they equalized the number of corners per side, 5-5!

SECOND HALF

It had to happen, a corner led to West Ham taking the lead, Rooney was bullied and de Gea unsighted as Kouyate showed great skill, albeit in acres of space, to score following a deflection off Blind.

In this half you wanted more bite from Rooney. He was all over the park, statistics show him very much involved but despite this he was ineffective and often badly positioned in relation to Blind. After the goal West Ham assumed a flatter formation and as a result Rooney relied on his long range passing.

United had to up the pace of their play, a common theme of this season.

Then the much needed change came on 71 minutes with Fellaini coming on for Januzaj. The tempo now increased significantly as United became more direct and we saw the first neat bit of play between van Persie and Falcao which saw the Columbian miss a great chance. You obviously want him to score but he’s struggling to take chances when they come. The same can be said of van Persie who had a good chance saved after Falcao returned the favour to set the Dutchman up.

Line up late in the second half

Line up late in the second half

This directness came about because Fellaini pitched up behind front two, shifting di Maria as a result. It was interesting to note Fellaini positioning on set pieces which was always at the back spot of the line of play, opposite to the kicker.

Comparison of shots - first half vs second half

Comparison of shots – first half vs second half

With ten minutes to go West Ham retreated into a 4-5-1 and in his post-match comments Allardyce seemed surprised that United went long? What were United supposed to do at this point as they chased the game? The truth is, West Ham played 7 more long balls than United.

BLIND POSITIONING

Boom! All seemed in vain though as West Ham kept compact but then in the 91st minute Rojo put in a cross which was dealt with poorly by Jenkinson and Blind was there to pick up the second ball and score. Picking up the second ball was something United had rarely done up to this point. Blind found the space after the otherwise impressive Song had failed to track him.

Shaw sent off

Shaw sent off

The game ended on a mute note when Shaw was sent off for what looked like a good challenge! This was a great shame because Shaw had been one of our better performers.

Shaw defensive duties

Shaw defensive duties

CONCLUSION

A victory after going behind in a game still eludes van Gaal, and yet the fighting spirit remains. The Fellaini change and a more direct approach was a positive whatever Allerdyce and the press may think despite a poor general performance by United.

Whilst United are third in the goals scored column United’s play is weak and unconvincing. Even though Falcao and van Persie showed that strength is important, speed is also needed to create space for others to attack and occupy.

United sparked into life after West Ham scored yet the dominance that van Gaal craves needs to be backed up by a degree of menace; menace and fear are required for total dominance. United need to always be asking questions, retaining possession is not enough. Although it was through a cross and a header by a West Ham defender the space that Blind had to strike was due to the pressure created in the zones that mattered. Pressure will bring about results.

A change in strategy after the substitution saw United become more direct and changed their shape.

Whilst a draw was disappointing there was a silver lining in the maintenance of the belief that United never give up and that is important as the opposition’s retreats as the game winds down. Making an opponent fear that you are able score right until the end must not be underestimated.

Is Rooney in midfield to accommodate van Persie and Falcao?  It feels like a waste to play Rooney in midfield, especially when Falcao and van Persie are misfiring. Is Rooney in midfield to accommodate van Persie and Falcao or is this about strengthening the midfield and achieving that much talked about balance?

Can these two front men work together as a pair? Whilst they are both similar –  dropping deep, strong on the ball they also have differences – type of runs and build up play. These need to be utilised differently if they want to stay together and Rooney isn’t to be reinstated to the front.

Overlapping and overloading was in short supply, be that with the fullback or the wide midfielder interchanging there simply wasn’t enough movement to trouble Jenkinson or Cresswell.

Long ball comparison

Long ball comparison

This was a poor performance yet it is one that has to be looked at in a positive light. The provocative post match comments by Allardyce about United’s long ball desperation only highlighted how frustrating it may have been to see his team throw away a deserved victory. As they say in the Army – Tuff! Yet what is no doubt clear to van Gaal, is the statistics that he uses to rebut his critics don’t seem as significant as the statistics of his strikers, despite the run of games with only one loss.