MANCHESTER UNITED vs WEST HAM UNITED
30.11.2016

Pre-match Jose Mourinho made ten-point that he was feeling confident going into this game as I’m home cup games, unlike recent home league games United had scored plenty of goals and won. This was unlike the game against West Ham at Old Trafford just three days earlier where United dominated play but failed to score.

PERSONNEL

In: Shaw, Carrick, Mkhitaryan, Martial and Rooney.
Out: Darmian, Pogba, Mata, Lingard and Rashford.

KEY POINTS

  • United again dominated but this time scored and so won. There were a couple of things different here from home league games but the big difference was that they took more of their chances.
  • The differences were that United played at a good pace and their play was more coordinated on the final third. Is this a product of a developing understanding? Let’s hope so.
  • Rooney had another good game. He got himself booked and played as if he was angry with a point to prove but so what that has always been when he has been at his best throughout his career. Perhaps that’s a thing that has been missing of late.
  • Henrkh Mkhitaryan stood out again. Queue lots of people pointing out that Mourinho was wrong not to play him. But maybe he’s playing well because Mourinho was right; the player needed time to adjust to the pace of the English game as evidenced by his display against City. If so he is getting there.
  • Pleasing here was the way United responded to the set back of conceding an equaliser, redoubled their efforts after the half time break to take the lead and them blow West Ham away.

FIRST HALF

The point about a fixture like this where you are playing the same side for the second time in a couple of days is that it is an opportunity to do better by refining your approach based upon lessons learnt from the first game. If you are the more accomplished of the two sides this should favour you. It favoured United here and in view of the fact that a number of teams are now playing with a three man defence those lessons learnt could be transferable.

1st-half   henrikh-mkhitaryan

United’s first half shape and Mkhitaryan

United certainly benefited in this game. In the league game they played well but only achieved a draw using a 4-2-3-1 strategy and a fairly fluid front four. For this game that strategy was adjusted to be closer to a 4-2-1-3 with the two wide players selected, Mkhitaryan and Martial, pushing higher either side of Ibrahimovic. This is brave of course because you run the risk of your central midfield three being outnumbered if the opponents wing backs can push forward and assert themselves. What you need is a big performance from your number 10, Rooney, to get on top and take the initiative.

United started well at a high tempo passing and moving quickly and looking to play early passes forward. Not long balls but invariably threaded passes from the deep into the front four who were again fairly mobile. Perhaps what helped more than anything else was the early goal scored after 2 minutes. This was a classic example of United’s early patterns of play. Rooney threaded a low ball through the middle to the ever mobile Mkhitaryan who was running from the centre to the right. He back heeled the ball into the path of the advancing Ibrahimovic who chipped the ball over the advancing keeper taking a knock on his leg for his efforts. Boom! 1-0.

Ibrahimovic - two minutes played, Boom!

Ibrahimovic – two minutes played, Boom!

The critical point to make about United’s display here is that by playing three players in high positions they gave West Ham the problem of a three against three defensive scenario. This forced the West Ham wing-backs to be more cautious as these front three pressed West Ham aggressively when they had the ball in the deep. They were backed up by Rooney and one of either Herrera or Carrick. On the ball United often then had six players pushing forward which meant numbers in and around the box whenever there was a turnover of possession. Good pressing and movement off the ball along with a developing understanding ensured that forward players often received the ball in 3 on 3 situations facing the opponent’s goal. United had a couple of other good chances to score and perhaps should have done so in this period.

Eventually West Ham began to adapt their approach and resorted to hitting quicker forward passes from the back to try to beat United’s press. This worked to an extent particularly when United took a couple of breathers in the game; inevitable given the high tempo which was the norm. This resulted in periods in the game where the play became stretched, end to end stuff. United’s first breather came after about 12 minutes and their second after the half hour mark resulted in an equalizing goal. This came from a breakaway and a cross field pass right to left for Payet to chase. He shot, De Gea spilled the save and former United trainee Ashley Fletcher fired home from close range. The equalizer came after 34 minutes.

This was disappointing given that United had been on top for most of the half and United’s play seemed to lack its previous verve and conviction thereafter whist West Ham played higher and with more energy. Their wing backs asserted themselves and as a consequence the game was fairly even for the rest of the half.

SECOND HALF

At half time Shaw who had picked up a first half knock was replaced by Daley Blind at left back. Having had a break and perhaps a few encouraging words from the manager and coaches United’s conviction in their game play returned at the start of the second half and they repeated their early goal after two minutes trick. Again the goal was consistent with their general approach.

United pressed West Ham who struggled to move the ball up the pitch on their left. Eventually the ball ran to Herrera who was backing up Valencia and Mkhitaryan’s pressing efforts. Herrera headed the ball into the path of Valencia who pushed the ball wide for the running Mkhitaryan. He ran towards the bye line then pulled the ball back to Martial arriving late in the box. He didn’t break stride in dispatching the ball into the net. Boom! 47 minutes played, 2-1.

Martial - 1st goal

Martial – 1st goal

United’s third goal in the 61st minute was very similar with Ibrahimovic playing a superb reverse path into the feet of Valencia, he pulled the ball back again to Martial who shot first time. Boom! 3-1 on 61 minutes.  West Ham were a beaten team.

Martial - 2nd goal

Martial – 2nd goal

Between these goals United dominated and created plenty of chances. United were on top, pressing West Ham and moving very well off the ball to create options in the final third. We haven’t said much about Rooney so far and post-match a lot of attention has been on the performance of Mkhitarayan, (who played very well), but the key to this performance was actually Rooney. This was in our humble opinion his best performance for some time. Busy, full of energy and aggressive; he controlled the space behind the aggressive press to ensure that United got on top. His aggression is significant and he was booked here late in the game but so what. In recent years, adapting to a deeper role Rooney has been learning and so has perhaps adopted a more measured considered approach. Fair enough but he needs the aggression and perhaps this has gone out of his game. He is 50% better when he asserts this aggressive streak and here, perhaps as a reaction to recent media coverage of his “down-time” he had it back.

Rooney - great performance controlling the space behind the press

Rooney – great performance controlling the space behind the press

Late in the game Jose Mourinho made the inevitable substitution designed to close out the game. These saw Schweinsteiger introduced to rapturous applause for a cameo after 85 minutes in place of Martial. United now reverted to a 4-3-3 at this stage with Rooney wide on the left. Then on 89 minutes Rashford replace Mkhitaryan.

2nd-half  schweinsteiger

United’s shape late in the game after the introduction of Schweinsteiger

In injury time United scored a fourth when the Herrera, released by Schweinsteiger charged into the box before turning the ball across goal from the bye-line for Ibrahimovic to fire home from close range. Boom! 4-1. Game over.

CONCLUSION

A good win for United, especially after a frustrating draw against the same opposition at the weekend. Whilst United dominated both games the difference here was that play in the final third was much better; quicker, better coordinated but above all else their decision making and the execution of the final ball was at a higher level.

It was also good to see United respond to West Ham’s equaliser. I’m that context the second half display where United scored three and continued to take the game to their opponents was a throw-back to a few years ago. United aren’t at the desired level yet but they are making steady progress and the signs are therefore encouraging.