|Pogba conceded a penalty to break the deadlock for West Ham but was it a fair decision?
Image from The Telegraph
Manchester United needed to avoid disaster against West Ham and played like a team seeking to avoid disaster. They seemed to play for the most part, not to lose. Entering the match, United had received some good news with Tottenham’s thrashing of Leicester in round 37, which meant that a convincing win could enter a third or even fourth scenario of clinching a Champions League berth next season. United could have earned tiebreakers on goal differential or although less likely, on goals scored, should the squad lose its last match to Leicester on the season’s final day.
The worst scenario, however, would have been a loss meaning only a victory over Leicester would have been enough to see United through to a top-four finish. As it stands, United shared the points with West Ham and now need just a draw to earn a Champions League position. The result was not the worst possible for the Red Devils, but it was good for West Ham who ensured another season in England’s top flight, and will not be involved in the relegation conversation on the season’s final day.
The problems for United began on the stroke of half-time, when the Red Devils conceded a free kick which was a bad theme for the day. All told, Manchester United allowed 12 free kicks on the day, many in dangerous areas. Just before the half, the West Ham free kick resulted in Paul Pogba throwing up his hands to defend himself, but ultimately his hands blocked the strike, a harsh, but fair call for a penalty. Michail Antonio struck it well, and it put West Ham up 0-1 just before the break. With West Ham needing just a goal to ensure safety, getting all three points and the convincing multiple-goal winning result seemed now a near impossibility. West Ham, despite being just 15th in the table, had only conceded 60 goals in 36 games which had to give United fans a queasy feeling.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær did well to change up tactics and inserted Aron Wan-Bissaka into the match just after half time for Tim Fosu-Mensah which invigorated the attack. His added width helped to open things up for Mason Greenwood in the middle of the box, who after playing a nice give-and-go with Anthony Martial, slotted home to equalise and United had put itself in position to win. However, with West Ham needing just the draw it went into defensive mode, sitting behind the ball, allowing 54% possession to United and allowing 68 attacks to just 56 for West Ham. However, West Ham were dangerous on the counter game, and in the end, Manchester United had to feel a bit lucky to escape with a point.
The Reds will have it all to do needing a draw or a win at Leicester to earn a Champions League spot. United do however have another avenue to Champions League as they currently sit in the Europa League round of 16 with a commanding lead over LASK. Winning Europa would also get United into UCL but should not rely on this and have all focus on Sunday’s big game.