MANCHESTER UNITED vs WEST HAM UNITED
After a disappointing defeat at Anfield on Thursday night the FA Cup was now looking like United’s most likely route to a trophy as they welcomed an in-form West Ham United to Old Trafford for an FA Cup quarter-final tie with pressure mounting. Their own form had been very mixed over the last couple of months but it was a case of now or never over the next week.
In: Carrick, Herrera and Lingard.
Out: Schneiderlin, Mata and Memphis.
- United shaped up as more of a 4-3-3 than their usual 4-2-3-1 and pressed West Ham well, often forcing them to kick the ball long. But West Ham are a big forceful side and Andy Carrol had a fantastic game so this didn’t inconvenience the visitors greatly. United struggled to contain Carroll. He usually won the first ball but he was also neat and tidy on the ground bringing others into the game.
- In the first half United failed to get a single shot on target, despite the fact that the game was tight and at times an end to end affair. In the advanced midfield positions Fellaini was never able to impose himself and Herrera was often overpowered. Herrera was neat and tidy but usually ineffective. So United moved the ball into the final third easily but then made no impression.
- Martial had an excellent game especially in the first half. Whenever he got the ball on the left West Ham immediately got three players around him and still struggled to contain him. United didn’t make enough of this and were often slow to get the ball to him. Late in the game Martial was moved to a central position and was well worth his goal.
- Slaven Bilic seized the initiative in the second half after United had started the half brightly. He made a couple of substitutions and introduced an extra midfield player. This worked for West Ham as they started to create overloads higher up the pitch. Their goal came after this change.
- It was good to see United fight back after the West Ham goal. Van Gaal now made the changes and these worked. Schweinsteiger moved the ball wide more quickly and United just seemed more urgent, more direct. At that point the season was effectively on the line. Why did it need to come to this before United showed this urgency?
United’s shape here at the start was almost a 4-3-3 with Carrick as a lone holding midfield player. Herrera further ahead positioned himself to the right and Fellaini positioned himself to the left. West Ham were notionally a 4-1-4-1 but their movement changed this with Kouyate often dropping between the centre-back Ogbonna and Reid. This allowed the full-backs to push on almost as wingbacks and so resulted in what looked like a three man defence. Carroll, West Ham central forward regularly dropped very deep away from United’s centre back and close to Carrick. Noble and Lanzini were often ahead of him and this gave West Ham’s shape a look of a 3-5-2. West Ham’s shape was however very fluid throughout the game.
United and West Ham – first half shapes
Initially this was a tight game with both teams pressing each other in the early stages. United were particularly successful with their press and this saw West Ham hit the ball long either after a back pass to the keeper or via one of their centre-backs. On a number of occasions United nearly caught West Ham but usually they managed to get the ball away. When they did it was usually towards Andy Carroll.
Carroll had an excellent game, as previously stated often dropping deep even on occasions into West Ham’s defensive line and not only to defend set pieces. This was probably the best game this writer has seen him play. Carroll usually won those long balls and often then brought the ball down to link with the players around him. This allowed West Ham to beat the United press and they generated a number of quick incisive moves in United’s half throughout the first period. West Ham had the better chances and better finishing would have seen them take the lead.
Carroll’s movement and strength required Fellaini to drop deeper than perhaps United would have wished, Rojo also came narrow as the West Ham man dropped onto Carrick or pushed up towards Blind. United coped with Carroll, but only just. This all had a couple of consequences.
Firstly Herrera was left isolated further forward and was overpowered by the big physical prescence of West Ham’s midfield. Herrera is a busy player who does things quickly and so gets the ball away before bigger more physical players can overpower him, but here he was outnumbered and could not do this. For the first time perhaps in his United career he looked lightweight. As a consequence he failed to link United’s attacking play when they got forward.
Secondly Fellaini dropping deep prevented United from supporting Martial on United’s left. West Ham were clearly worried about Martial as they didn’t just double up on him when he got the ball they tripled up on him with Antonio, Reid and Kouyate surrounding him whenever he got the ball. What United needed to do was get the ball to Martial early and quickly in an attempt to get him against Antonio before support could arrive. When they did this Martial looked a handful and all United’s better moments came from this as Martial ran at the West Ham right. Unfortunately Fellaini had a poor first half, unable to subdue Carroll and unable to supply early ball to Martial.
The consequence of the West Ham tripling up on Martial was that there was space on the right for Lingard and Varela. United did not use this space well although Carrick who had a great half when he had the ball at his feet regularly tried to switch play. The problem was that not only was the ball often slow to reach Martial but having pulled West Ham to that side the ball back to Carrick was often slow, so the switch was delayed. When it did arrive Lingard or Varela tried to deliver early crosses but the quality of these crosses was generally poor. Rashford had little service and the general quality of United’s play in the final third was erratic with too many misplaced passes to count.
West Ham continued to play well when they got up the pitch and had the better chances of the half. They missed a couple of good chances and De Gea made a comfortable save from a close range header when West Ham should have done better.
Perhaps a few strong words were spoken in the United dressing room at half-time because United started the second half well. Fellaini pushed higher and Herrera dropped deeper so that there was a better shape between Carrick, Herrera and Fellaini. United’s play also tended to focus less on feeding Martial and their attacking thrust now had better balance across the width of the pitch. United were on top after the initial exchanges and this prompted Slaven Bilic to make a couple of changes.
On 62 minutes Winston Reid was replaced by Obiang, a midfield player for a defender and two minutes later Sakho replaced Eminike. Suddenly West Ham had a greater presence in the middle of the pitch and prevented United controlling this area. They also found themselves able to hold the ball in the middle of the pitch and so develop play. Bilic had seized the initiative and it paid off a couple of minutes later.
Reports after the match have focused on Dimitri Payet the darling of the West Ham fans. Payet had a purple spell in the middle of the game but he didn’t excel across the whole game and whilst he scored the West Ham goal he was lucky to be on the pitch at this point. Firstly he seemed to dive in an attempt to win a penalty as Rojo pulled out of a tackle. The referee failed to book him for this. Why? It appeared a clear dive. Was this because he had been booked? Then he appeared to dive again to win a free-kick. He stepped up to take this superbly and beat the United wall and De Gea into the top corner. 1-0 to West Ham after 68 minutes.
West Ham were now on top and for a few minutes it looked like United were shell-shocked. West Ham might have scored again at this point as they controlled the middle of the park, but they didn’t. It was now Van Gaal’s turn to take the initiative and on 76 minutes he made a double substitution removing Fellaini and Rashford and introducing Memphis and Schweinsteiger. The change saw Martial switch to the middle with Memphis on the left. Schweinsteiger for Fellaini was more or less a straight swap but this change was the one that made the difference.
United shape late in the game and Schweinsteiger who made a big difference
Schweinsteiger is often criticised for being slow, and he certainly isn’t quick over the ground, but Fellaini is a little slower. The difference though is that Schweinsteiger is neat where Fellaini is untidy. Schweinsteiger takes the ball in tightest of positions, it doesn’t bounce away from him and he is cool in possession. Here he got the ball and moved it quickly and forward towards Memphis or Martial. One was left wondering how much more effective United might have been had Schweinsteiger been feeding Martial in the first half. Schweinsteiger did the simple things well and early. Bilic responded by removing Carroll and introducing Valencia as Schweinsteiger took up a position in the half-space on the left. The momentum was now with United as they pushed for an equaliser.
It didn’t look as if it would come but then Martial picked up the ball in the left and fed it out to the right. Herrera returned a cross into the six yard box and Martial met it to equalize. 83 minutes 1-1.
Both sides then had chances to win the game with West Ham sustaining some pressure to win a series of corners. United held on to earn a replay.
Varela took a late knock and was replaced in the 87th minute by Darmian
United live to fight another day. This wasn’t a great performance but the side showed more fight and character than at Anfield and competed so making this a tight game. Having fallen behind Van Gaal seized the initiative and changed the game by introducing Schweinsteiger.
A number of individuals stood out for better or for worse. Martial was United’s best performer over the whole match and someone whom West Ham had clearly identified as a threat. He deserved his goal. Smalling and Blind did well against West Ham’s big physical forwards, (Carroll was excellent for West Ham and always a handful) and Carrick was busy in directing the play from deep. Fellaini had a difficult game often looking clumsy; he was slow to move the ball to Martial on occasions. Herrera and Lingard worked hard but were largely ineffective. Herrera looked lightweight at times overpowered by West Ham’s assertive midfield.
United will have to improve in the replay if they are to progress.