Football Features

Rice passes Old Trafford audition: Five things learned from Man Utd 2-1 West Ham

By Harry Edwards

Published: 19:33, 13 April 2019

Manchester United kept their hopes of a top-four finish alive thanks to a tight 2-1 win over West Ham United.

Paul Pogba gave Man Utd a first-half lead from the penalty spot but West Ham drew level shortly after half-time through Felipe Anderson.

Pogba then scored the winner 10 minutes from time with another penalty to keep the Red Devils close-by in the race for a Champions League spot.

But what did we learn?

1. Barcelona will be rubbing their hands together

Manchester United made six changes from the team which lost to Barcelona in midweek but still named a number of big stars who will likely play a part at the Nou Camp on Tuesday, including Paul Pogba, Fred, Jesse Lingard and Romelu Lukaku.

And even with some of their stars involved in the win, United were poor. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men lacked real cohesion, with the simplest of passes sometimes not finding their intended recipients – as shown in the build up to West Ham’s equaliser.

After claiming the ball, David de Gea’s throw out was poor and unseen by the United midfield, allowing Declan Rice to take charge. The West Ham midfielder moved the ball out to the left where the United defence failed to deal with Manuel Lanzini whose cross was eventually finished by Felipe Anderson.

The state of the game meant United had to call upon Marcus Rashford, who Solskjaer would have been hoping to rest ahead of Tuesday, trying to scrape the win and close the gap on the top four.

And while United were fighting with some key players, Barcelona’s position at the top of La Liga meant they were able to make 10 changes from the team which won at Old Trafford on Wednesday – only Marc-Andre ter Stegen kept his place.

The Blaugrana may have drawn against bottom of the table Huesca, but their result was not as important as the rest the likes of Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez got ahead of Tuesday.

With their big boys back and United travelling into the lions’ den that is the Nou Camp, Barcelona will undoubtedly fancy their chances of a Champions League semi-final place.

2. Pogba makes West Ham pay the penalty

With Manchester United poor on Saturday, Solskjaer needed someone to step up and take control of the game, dragging the Red Devils to the win.

Fortunately for United, Pogba was the man to do it, stepping up twice to convert from the penalty spot when his side needed him most.

There was some controversy about the first penalty, with discussions over the nature of Robert Snodgrass’ tackle on Juan Mata. But Graham Scott pointed to the spot and up stepped Pogba.

The Frenchman has received criticism in the past for his slow, stuttering run ups, but with the pressure on the occasion, Pogba looked confident and went for power with his shot.

And he did not alter the technique in his second penalty, once again looking for power over placement with the game riding on his spot kick after Ryan Fredericks had fouled Anthony Martial.

They were his sixth and seventh penalty goals of the Premier League this season, with only Crystal Palace’s Luka Milivojevic scoring more – 10 of his 11 attempts.

Only one team have been awarded more penalties in the Premier League than Crystal Palace this season, with Manchester United taking their tally up to 12 on Saturday evening. In Europe’s top five leagues, only Lille had been awarded as many penalties as United.

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3. Declan Rice gives Old Trafford a preview amid links

In what was largely a poor game in the centre of the pitch, one midfielder truly shone brighter than the rest.

Declan Rice has had a wonderful season since making the full-time switch to midfield for West Ham, with performances earning him a call-up to the England national team and two appearances in the most recent international break.

Rice has also been linked with a big-money move away from West Ham, with Manchester United among those reportedly interested. And after watching him control the midfield on Saturday, Man Utd fans will be hoping their board can get a deal done.

The Englishman was quicker, smarter, calmer and tougher than his United counterparts in the middle of the pitch, completing 87% of his passes at Old Trafford.

And it was he who started the move for West Ham’s equaliser, showing quick-thinking to intercept De Gea’s poor throw out when the United midfield had fallen asleep.

4. Javier Hernandez cannot lead the line in big games

West Ham have done well to overturn their disastrous start to the season and get into a position where they were being considered as outsiders to finish seventh and potentially earn a Europa League spot.

But the one thing which has really been missing for West Ham over the weeks has been a prolific striker. Throughout the season, the Hammers have made do with Marko Arnautovic leading the line but the Austrian’s form has dropped following his failed move to China in the January transfer window.

In the 2-0 defeat to Chelsea on Monday, West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini started Javier Hernandez up front looking to hurt a Blues defence which the Mexican has done so well in the past. But Hernandez failed to get himself into the game and was taken off at half-time – a decision which actually improved West Ham despite the defeat.

But with Arnautovic missing Saturday’s game through illness Hernandez was required to lead the line against his former side, and once again it was without success.

In his 73 minutes on the pitch before being taken off, Hernandez had just 26 touches, failing to take a single shot.

Fortunately for West Ham they had someone in Felipe Anderson and Michail Antonio to actually trouble the United goal, with the latter unfortunate not to join the former on the scoresheet.

5. The Premier League’s biggest mistake arises again

The Premier League may have agreed to introduce the video assistant referee from next season, but going by some of the big decisions made in the current campaign, it’ll be one year too late.

After its trial in the FA Cup last year, Premier League clubs voted against VAR being in use this season, despite its use in three of Europe’s top five leagues and the World Cup – with large success in the latter.

It has also since been brought into this season’s Champions League knockout stages and proved vital, as Manchester United will know from their 1-0 defeat to Barcelona in midweek.

But it remains absent in the Premier League, billed to be the best club division in the world – and its football is suffering.

In Saturday evening’s game between Manchester United and West Ham there were two such cases where VAR could have changed the result. It started when Felipe Anderson’s goal was ruled out for offside, a decision which was shown to be wrong by replays, as Diogo Dalot’s foot was playing the Brazilian on.

Then, shortly after, United were awarded a penalty for Robert Snodgrass’ foul on Juan Mata – which some deemed too soft. Despite being more subjective than the offside call, VAR would have given referee Graham Scott a chance to either reaffirm his decision or change his mind.

There have been bigger decisions missed as a result of VAR’s absence, such as those in Cardiff’s 2-0 defeat to Burnley on Saturday afternoon which has all-but relegated the Bluebirds, but every little mistake adds to the utterly bizarre decision by the Premier League last year.