In a dull and dour night of football, Manchester United beat West Ham 1-0 after extra time in the FA Cup fifth round.
Moyes has now gone 14 games at Old Trafford as a visiting manager without getting a win (he only won 16 games at Old Trafford as Man Utd manager so he’s almost achieved a weird kind of parity) and the Red Devils are through to the quarter-finals.
1. The McTerminator
Scott McTominay has four goals in his last 10 Manchester United appearances. In fact he has seven goals all season and three in his last three games. No, that’s not a joke. He bagged one in the thrashing of Southampton and scored what looked like the winner against Everton, then today he settled the FA Cup tie in extra time with a superb goal.
The finish itself was superb, arriving late into the box he had little time to add backlift or even set himself and instead just stabbed it hard and low where the excellent Lukasz Fabianski couldn’t get at it.
McTominay’s goalscoring seems like a bit of a fluke but the way he strikes the ball is so pure it’s actually a major feature of his game, or at least it would be if Manchester United were to unleash him as a more attacking force.
Scott McTominay has now scored in each of his last three appearances for Manchester United.
⚽️ vs. Southampton
⚽️ vs. Everton
⚽️ vs. West Ham
Coming off the bench to score this evening. pic.twitter.com/VtEk15v4uK
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 9, 2021
Playing at the base of midfield next to Fred he’s part of a defensive duo so can only get forward so much, however if the Red Devils were to sign a top-class defensive midfielder then they could afford to let McTominay make these kinds of forward runs multiple times a game, and then with his finishing ability you could legitimately expect 10-15 goals every single season. Come on Ole, unleash the McTerminator!
2. West Ham belong in a back five
David Moyes’ West Ham were pretty poor in the first-half at Old Trafford, but a head-injury to Issa Diop (who himself had come on as a sub) forced Moyes into a half-time change and the Scot took this chance to switch his system up, reverting to the 5-4-1 that has served him well.
Back in their familiar shape, they poised United so many more problems. The three-man defensive alignment allowed them to plug every conceivable gap in their defensive line, as well as break out with efficiency. Ben Johnson and Ryan Fredricks were unleashed as wing-backs and United found it hard to cope with the overloads they created out wide.
3. Donny’s on a different wavelength
Donny van de Beek has barely featured for Manchester United so far this season, he’s played just 300 minutes in the Premier League. And given the sorry state of Manchester United’s midfield (in a creative capacity, anyway) that’s often been confusing.
But then you look at the games he has played (mostly in the cups) and bar a couple of performances he’s not had any influence on proceedings and indeed often looks lost. And the question has to be how does such a good footballer look so out of place?
It’s precisely because he’s a good footballer that he doesn’t fit in with United’s direct style of play. Van de Beek suits a more passing and possession style of football. Not even slow-paced necessarily, just football that involves lots of short passes and off-the-ball movement.
Tonight was a great example of why he just doesn’t fit. He’s constantly making flicks and quick passes around corners and looking for return balls that just don’t come. He’s moving into spaces and waiting for his defensive midfielders to feed him the ball and they either cannot, do not, or take so long to pass that the defence has already adjusted by the time he receives the ball.
It was no surprise that when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer opted to bring Bruno Fernandes on, he didn’t take off one of his defensive midfielders and push Van de Beek deeper, instead just taking him off for the Portuguese as he miserably trudged off.
It seems harsh to pronounce judgement just halfway through his first season but unless United change their style of play it’s hard to see how he will ever be able to show anything like his best form at Manchester United.
4. Amad to the rescue?
Manchester United need a right-winger. They tried to sign Jadon Sancho, well, “tried” might be more accurate. Still, they made vague attempts and yet came away empty handed. Late in the transfer window they agreed deals to sign teenage wingers Facundo Pellestri and Amad Diallo. Pellestri joined straight away but Amad didn’t until January.
A young winger full of pace, skill and daring invention, Amad is far from the finished product but might already have a massive role to play in this Manchester United side that is so achingly crying out for a right-winger. Mason Greenwood obviously fills in there but the youngster does his best work as a goalscoring presence inside the box and playing him as a winger denies him that chance.
Amad is a natural winger and while he’s not exactly Jadon Sancho, his skill-set and confidence will mean that at the very least United will have another blisteringly quick player who is unafraid to take men on and blow by them. That alone will open up space for others, especially in games like this one where opponents sit in a deep block and try to frustrate United. Solskjaer didn’t turn to he teen tearaway tonight, but hopefully he does in the future as it could liven things up a bit!
5. United must do better
Manchester United are through to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup. They will be hoping to go better than last year and win the trophy. However if they want to do that, if they want to overcome their semi-final struggles then they simply have to do more than the bare minimum they did here today.
United showed very little guile, very little ability to break their opponent down. But hey, that can happen sometimes, the key is how the manager reacts to it. And, well, Ole Gunnar Solslkjaer made only like-for-like changes and at no time did he take a risk and alter his team’s shape or bring on someone explosive like Amad Diallo.
If Manchester United are to return to their trophy-winning ways, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer cannot continue to play it so safe.