West Ham United have been the early high fliers of the Premier League this season, picking up big results against top oppositions. So when United went to the London Stadium to face the Hammers on 5th December, 2020 there was an eerie feeling that United might stumble. There were reasons to have that feeling as well. United have been very inconsistent and this is a ground where they’ve struggled in the recent past. However, they did have 3 wins on the trot in the league, a very good away record and a good midweek performance against PSG. So cautious optimism was the feeling United would’ve brought to this game.
This was a game of two halves. And its not the first time you would’ve heard that about the Red Devils this season. It is becoming a recurring theme for Manchester United in an away fixture to concede first, have a poor first half and the somehow find out a winner in the second half. United ended up winning 3-1 despite of conceding first and getting dominated for majority of the match.
First Half analysis
The first half Manchester United produced against West Ham is arguably the worst they’ve played this season. Abysmal is the proper way to put that first half into words. West Ham went into the break with a 1-0 lead and they must’ve been wondering how it was only 1-0. Because it could’ve easily been 2 or 3 at the break and United could’ve had no complains if that was the case.
Manchester United last season had one of the best defences in the league. This season it feels like everyone has taken a step backwards when it comes to defending. And there is something fundamentally wrong with the way United defend set-pieces, specially corners. United always use zonal marking nowadays with blockers in the middle. But for some reason, nobody reacts to runs made by opposition players and it has cost United time and time again. Nobody was surprised when United conceded that goal from the corner. Fornals also had a great chance, as did Bowen. But Wan-Bissaka’s precise last gasp recovery tackle prevented that from happening.
Second Half analysis
If Solskjaer thought bringing on Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford was going to instantly change their fortunes, he was wrong. United started the second half the way they ended the first- sloppy, careless and lack of cohesion. Bowen had a great chance to score early in the second half. And West Ham stayed on top of United. But Manchester United were slowly getting more into the game and a contentious moment in the match came when a Henderson clearance allegedly went out of play before Bruno latched on to it and the Pogba smashed in a screamer from 25 yards. From then on, it was one way traffic more or less. Greenwood scored a goal that would remind everyone once again about his natural finishing ability. And the 3 substitutes combined later on to seal the victory.
While the spirit to come from behind is pretty impressive, Manchester United need to stop this slow starts to the matches. This has happened far too many times already this season. And for a team like United, it shouldn’t take them to concede a goal first to react every single time. Like Patrice Evra said at the post-match show, United need to be active sometimes rather than reactive. Also, the performances in the first halves are a cause for concern. United need to start matches strongly as well.
The way United played towards the end will probably make you think they are title contenders. Even in terms of where United are, you can’t totally rule them out of it. But it feels very unrealistic and that is only because United haven’t shown the consistency required for it. Never mind consistency in a match to match basis, United aren’t consistent even during the match. Bruno Fernandes is having an unreal season in terms of individual performances and Rashford is no different. The difference with them on the field and off the field is enormous and maybe that is a cause for concern for Solskjaer.
Looking ahead, Manchester United travel to Leipzig for their all important away tie in the UCL. With Upamecano suspended, United have a real good chance of getting a favorable result. Although a draw is enough, the Red Devils would be wrong to play for a draw. They need to start on the front foot going for a win. United may well be without Martial and Cavani for the game as both of them came off injured. It remains to be seen which Manchester United show up on the day.