After a Thursday night Europa League win it was back to domestic football and the first of two consecutive games against West Ham United in a week. The first of those two fixtures was a league game and with United drawing each of the last three home league games a win was imperative.


In: De Gea, Rojo, Darmian, Herrera, Lingard and Rashford.
Out: Romero, Blind, Shaw, Carrick, Rooney and Mkhitaryan.


  • Two more dropped points in a game where United dominated play. United need to be more clinical in front of goal to change this pattern.
  • Another pattern to be avoided is the one where United concede early goals. United need to be more alert at the start and need to defend set pieces better than they did here. If United hadn’t conceded the early goal but instead scored first the game would then have had a very different complexion with West Ham forced to chase the game rather than provide robust resistance.
  • Much of United’s play was pleasing on the eye. Passing and moving at a good tempo they created chances. However against a side who are set up to defend United need to improve their delivery into the box and look to develop better second phase pressure after that delivery. United had chances here but didn’t have a sustained period where they besieged the opposition.
  • Rather than trying to play through the opposition there is a case to be made in this type of game for a pattern of play which looks to create shots from range. They might not go in directly through a crowded penalty area but they might take a deflection or pin-ball to a player who can then score.
  • United seemed to lose focus at the start of the second half and whilst they had 17 shots on goal in the match they had none of these in the first twenty minutes of the second half.


For the third time this season United conceded a goal in the first couple of minutes of a game. As goals are significant events they will usually change the nature of a game. The goal was conceded from a free kick, delivered high into the box by Payet from the right hand side and headed in by Sakho who out jumped Ibrahimovic. United had plenty of bodies in the box but defensive organisation was poor.

1st-half  manchester-united-v-west-ham-united-premier-league

United’s first half shape and Lingard in the number 10 role

After the goal United took control of the game, so you could argue that the goal did not really change the nature of the game, but of course it did because West Ham know had something to hold onto and United of course had to chase the game. Jose Mourinho had made six changes from the side that had faced Feyenoord in mid-week but retained a 4-2-3-1 shape with Herrera partnering Pogba in place of Carrick in the double pivot and with Lingard coming into the number 10 position in place of Rooney. Mata retained his place in the side on the right and Rashford replacing Mkhitaryan on the left. West Ham set up in their now usual 3-4-3 shape with two wing backs. After the goal with something to depend the wing backs tended to be a little too cautious and so the shape morphed into more of a 5-4-1 in defence. This of course surrendered the initiative to United.

The pattern of the first half was that United played well in attack and created chances, but apart from the equaliser they didn’t make the most of the opportunities. It’s appropriate then to analyse why?

Pogba action areas - often  too deep to hurt the opposition?

Pogba action areas – often too deep to hurt the opposition?

The first point we would make is that Pogba was usually too deep. From a deep position on the left he cannot hurt the opposition as we would like and he often looks vulnerable when the opposition attack because he is not decisive in the tackle. Ironically Pogba made the equaliser for Ibrahimovic with a chipped ball over the top as he came forward. The ball dropped onto the head of Ibrahimovic who was able to head first time into the net to make the score 1-1 after 21 minutes. Boom!

Ibrahimovic equaliser - Boom!

Ibrahimovic equaliser – Boom!

The second point to make is that United played well when they combined through swift short passes and good movement in the final third. Rashford tended to come inside from the left and Mata did something similar from the right. Lingard often swapped with Mata and Ibrahimovic played superbly across the line but also dropping deep to drag defenders about and combine play. The only problem here was the final pass didn’t often come off. This is an issue with understanding between the forwards, but this should develop in time.

mata-passing  lingard-passing

Mata passing on the left and Lingard passing on the right. Note how similar these patterns are demonstrating how frequently they interchanged

The other side of this was that United didn’t play so well when the play was more expansive. Pogba, deep on the left tended to try to switch play with longer passes; these didn’t often come off. United were also slow to move the ball out of their defensive zone. So we had a pattern here where United pressed West Ham and looked really dangerous when they won the ball in high positions and far less dangerous when United had the ball at the back and West Ham were well set in their defensive shape.

The consequence was that the score was 1-1 at half time.


United didn’t make any changes at half time, but the game did changes and if anything demonstrated that the early West Ham goal in the first half had affected the nature of the game. West Ham didn’t change shape but they did move higher up the pitch and did press United more. The effect of this was that in the first twenty minutes of the second half United made very little impression in an attacking sense and had a grand total of zero shots on goal.

United shots - none of these came in the first twenty minutes of the second half

United shots – none of these came in the first twenty minutes of the second half

United were very slow to adjust to the change in the game. The point about that first half goal is that it had made West Ham to cautious and passive in their approach. West Ham coach was clearly unhappy about this as he had now made his side step forward and compete more. In the first half it was usually United who pressed the opposition now it was as likely to be West Ham. This was now a more even contest.

2nd-half        Manchester United v West Ham United - Premier League

United shape after the substitutions with the introduction of Mkhitaryan and Rooney

Why were United slow to adjust? Perhaps this was because Jose Mourinho had been sent to the stands in the first half for petulantly kicking a water bottle after Pogba had been booked for diving. Perhaps it is harder to make judgement and adjustments when divorced from your coaching staff up in the stands. The substitutions finally came in the 65th minute with Rooney replacing Rashford and Mkhitaryan replacing Mata. These changes saw Rooney take up the number 10 position, Mkhitaryan move to the right and Lingard move to the left.

There are two points to make about United’s play in the second half and they apply both before and after these substitutions. Firstly United were far slower and more deliberate in the way they moved the ball forward in the second half. This meant that they tended to recycle the ball back across from wing to wing rather than deliver the ball into the box. The second point is that the quality of the ball into the box was generally poor. This is significant because West Ham are a big side and playing with three central defenders the ball into the box when delivered had to be good. It wasn’t.

We have seen that before this season and it is a general feature of United’s play. It is exposed most critically when United play against a three man defence who by their nature stay fairly narrow. This happened against Manchester City who went to three central defenders in the second half of the league derby, Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and here.

Ibrahimovic - good movement deep to link play then attempting to arrive behind the far post to out jump people. This was ineffective here

Ibrahimovic – good movement deep to link play then attempting to arrive behind the far post to out jump people. This was ineffective here

A related point concerns Ibrahimovic. In the early games of the season he had considerable success arriving late behind the defence at the far post and out jumping people. Teams are wise to this now and a three man defence is most able to cope. Here they ensured that they never allowed Ibrahimovic to steal a march on them and so he was unable to get the sought of clean headers on goal we have seen in earlier games. Perhaps a better approach would have been to use his height and physicality to provide knock downs for other. United didn’t really try this enough and when the ball did drop in the box they were usually slowest to react.

Unfortunately this meant that the final score was 1-1.


The pattern that has emerged of United dominating the opposition and failing to win home games is troubling to say the least. But we should remember that this is a different pattern than that which predominated last year where United dominated possession but struggled to win games. The difference here is that United are creating plenty of goal scoring opportunities but they just aren’t taking enough of them. United now need to develop a more clinical ruthless streak to their play in the final third.

Match statistics

Match statistics

The troubling feature of this game however is the non-performance in the first twenty minutes of the second half. United can’t afford to right off that amount of time in a game but need to develop pressure throughout the game in the hope that that pressure will break the opposition. That is what happened effectively in the mid-week Europa League game where Feyenoord eventually appeared to have given up. Here this period and United’s on-going inability to score the decisive goal seemed to encourage West Ham in their resolve.

A managerial sending-off is a side issue and a distraction. But it is a distraction United can do without as these things can effect outcomes. Did it influence the nature of United’s bad 20 minutes? Possibly it did because if he was on the touchline Jose may have acted more swiftly to change things.