Football Features

“They need to upgrade on this miserable midfielder” – Five things learned as Man Utd draw with West Ham

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 20:29, 22 July 2020 | Updated: 9:52, 30 March 2021

In a stifled evening of football, Manchester United were held 1-1 by West Ham at Old Trafford.

The point ensures West Ham’s Premier League survival and puts The Red Devils into the top four ahead of the final day of the season. What did we learn?

1. Magical Mason cannot be stopped

We all wondered what Mason Greenwood’s ceiling was, and we still have no idea. Every time a reasonable limit is pit in place, this teenager smashes right through it. Alright he was an amazing finisher, but what about the rest of his game? Well, look at tonight’s goal to see just how scary this boy could be in time.

Greenwood equalised for United with another thunderbolt into the near-post. A superb finish, but what was better was the build-up, where he exchanged passes with Anthony Martial and made a superb run into space. Well, “space” because honestly Martial and Greenwood played a give-and-go within ten square yards and surrounded by five West Ham defenders.

There was no space when the move began; they created the space with their passing and movement. Now, we knew Martial was capable of playing in such tight spaces, but Greenwood? The kid who is six years younger than Martial? That is an entirely new development for a kid whose previous goals consisted of him standing wide-open and cannoning the ball into the back of the net.

If Greenwood starts to show an ability to operate in such a lack of space then not only does he become an even bigger threat off the right in games like today, but he will find it easier to transition to playing as a centre-forward in the years to come. And given that he’s scored 17 goals in his debut season as a starter, that’s 17 goals in 50 appearances as a teenager who has only just begun to start, the idea that he could get even better even quicker is a scary prospect for United’s opponents.

2. West Ham close to turning a corner

For the longest time, West Ham have not been a serious football club. They’ve made great squads look average and have repeatedly fail to perform consistently. But the thing is, could that be about to change?

Obviously one can’t get too carried away by a side who followed up an immense win against Chelsea with a draw against Newcastle and a home defeat against Burnley, but usually West Ham have only really come alive in a dogfight. They’ve had to wait until their existence as a Premier League club was on the line to really come to life.

Yet they came to Old Trafford safe from the spectre of relegation. Perhaps not mathematically but it would require a goal swing of such gargantuan proportions that they knew they were okay. Yet they didn’t just sit back, absorb pressure and try to keep the score down, they actually came out to play and in the end picked up the point that ensured their safety.

That draw would have been enough for the Hammers but Moyes’ men came to win and for large parts of the game, they were the better side, playing with a real fluency and serenity. Given their squad is actually loaded with talent, it’s worth considering just how close West Ham are to actually turning the corner. If David Moyes can keep this mental focus in the squad, and retain his quality players, we will be forced to consider the frightening prospect that West Ham could be… good?

3. Pogba exposes the need for change

For years, football didn’t have substitutes. If someone was unable to carry on due to injury, they simply left the field. Then one sub for injury was introduced, and the rules were expanded until now when we have multiple subs on the bench and five chances to bring them on.

Point is, the rules changed with the times. And Paul Pogba’s penalty concession shows that perhaps it’s time for another change. Concussions are a very real problem in football, to the extent that the FA has issued guidelines that children under the age of 11 should not taught heading.

So when a free-kick is flying at Pogba’s face as he’s stood in the wall, how can there be serious adults calling for the Frenchman to “take it in the face?” The two results cannot be: get concussed or give away a penalty. The rule must change to accommodate players protecting themselves. Perhaps you can use your hand to protect your face, whilst not making yourself bigger in any way? However the rules are altered, it’s clear that they do need to be changed so that players don’t have to put their health against their prosperity.

4. The Matic Problem

A couple weeks ago Manchester United handed Nemanja Matic a bumper new contract that kept him at the club for a further three years. At the time it was lauded as a fitting reward for a player in form, but in truth it was always a short-sighted move, especially because it rewarded the weakest link in the Manchester United attacking chain.

Playing defensive midfield at the elite level has always required a quick, incisive passing ability. Alright you don’t have to be Sergio Busquets or Xabi Alonso, but you have to be able to move it forward quickly and accurate. Nemanja Matic can only manage one of the two: quick or accurate. There is the odd moment when he’ll turn the ball around the corner first-time like Michael Carrick used to do, but mostly he takes one, two, three four and sometimes five touches. He slows United’s passing attack to a halt which ends up bringing out the worst tendencies of Paul Pogba next to him, compounding the issue. If The Red Devils really want to become an elite side worthy of the Champions League (regardless of whether they qualify or not) then they need to upgrade on the miserable Matic.

5. United are slowing but the showdown is set

Manchester United are unbeaten in 13 Premier League games, winning 8 of those games. They’ve hit the end of the season like sledgehammer and, since Bruno Fernandes’ arrival, have been one of the most entertaining sides in the country.

However they haven’t really played well in the last 10 days, drawing with Southampton and West Ham, narrowly beating Crystal Palace and then losing in the FA Cup to Chelsea. Part of the reason for that is simply fatigue: United’s first team is fantastic but their squad is weak and Ole Gunner Solskjaer’s unwillingness to use that squad has resulted in his starters getting worn out.

United were so slow against West Ham. There was a notable lack of verve from Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford, with even Paul Pogba looking out of sorts. Only Mason Greenwood and Anthony Martial seemed to be really “at it” and that was enough to pick up a draw, but they never looked like getting the win and thus didn’t.

Now they head into a final day showdown with Leicester for the final Champions League spot. The Red Devils are on 63 points, Leicester on 62. The goal difference is an identical +28 for both sides, so a win for either side would see them through simple as that. A draw would be enough for United, but Solskjaer has to know the folly of trying to draw against an opponent who is determined to win, especially an opponent with a striker like Jamie Vardy, a snarling sniper who thrives on pressure and loves big games.

It promises to be a phenomenal showdown on the final day, but who will get the win?