Football Features

“Light the beacons!” – Winners & Losers as David de Gea saves the day for Man Utd against West Ham

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 16:35, 19 September 2021

In a rollercoaster afternoon of football, Manchester United beat West Ham 1-2 at The London Stadium.

The game’s drama all came at the end as United scored a game-winner, were denied a penalty, conceded a penalty and had it saved all in the last five minutes.

Who were the winners and losers?

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Winner: David de Gea

40 straight penalty kicks David de Gea has faced. And 40 straight penalty kicks have breached his goal and rippled the back of the net. Whatever David de Gea can or cannot do: saving penalties was not one of those things. So when Mark Noble came on, having not missed a spot-kick since December 2016, you felt worried.

But Noble’s penalty wasn’t great, and De Gea guessed right, diving across to palm it out. Light the beacons! De Gea saved one! The streak stops at 40 and after his humiliation in the Europa League final, David de Gea has finally redeemed himself. He’s also put a huge dent in Dean Henderson’s hopes to be United no. 1 when he returns from injury, because the mystique around the Spaniard is well and truly back.

Loser: The referees

What a massive shambles the Premier League’s new refereeing standards are. Of course VAR will act as a lightning rod to all the criticism but the truth is, VAR just enforces the rules and it’s those rules that make no sense.

The new “lenient” rules on refereeing are all well and good for letting a game flow in the midfield, but at the sharp ends of the pitch when decisions have to be made, you run into issues. Cristiano Ronaldo is a wily veteran who knows how to sucker opponents into fouling him and he did exactly that to West Ham, twice drawing challenges that took him off his feet and in any other league in the world outside of the United Kingdom would have resulted in penalties. Yet Martin Atkinson and his VAR crew decided that neither were penalties.

At least they got the call for West Ham correct, where Luke Shaw’s dangling arm blocked the ball and resulted in a penalty. Many will deem it harsh given that United had just been denied their second penalty claim minutes earlier, but it was the right decision; at least they got one!

Winner: Jesse Lingard

It’s not often the scorer of an 89th minute game-winning rocket straight into the top corner is bumped from the headlines, but such was the baffling drama on display in the last five minutes of The London Stadium. However no amount of penalty madness can disguise the genius n that Jesse Lingard thunderbolt.

Lingard came on for Paul Pogba in a move that could have been controversial given Pogba’s ability to break games open, but getting him involved again after his mistake midweek was always smart management and sure enough Lingard delivered, cutting infield and rather than overcomplicate issues, simply let fly with his right-boot.

There’s no doubt Lingard could go to a team like West Ham and play every week, but there’s something to be said for playing for “your” club, the team you’ve been at all your life as Lingard has with Manchester United. And Lingard has such overwhelming quality that while he won’t be a starter for The Red Devils, he will absolutely play his part over the course of the season. This won’t be his last game-winner, and it won’t be his last worldie either. Jesse Lingard’s got magic in his boots, and don’t you forget it.

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Winner: Kurt Zouma

Chelsea had and have a quite ridiculous squad of players but given their style of play often sees them relying on defence it seems excessively strange that they sold Kurt Zouma to West Ham. But their loss has most assuredly been West Ham’s gain because Zouma was absolutely monumental against Manchester United.

Whenever United broke forward and tried to find a way to goal, Zouma was in their way. He was constantly in the right place at the right time to make crucial interceptions and interventions. He ended the game with a whopping 12 clearances, almost twice as many as any other player on the pitch.

Loser: Raphael Varane

It must be frustrating to be so good and yet so unappreciated. To be fair, Raphael Varane must be used to it after a decade of starring for Real Madrid yet seeing all the plaudits go to Sergio Ramos. And just when he was finally set for a starring role as Manchester United’s super stud signing of the summer, along came Cristiano Ronaldo to steal his thunder.

And so again, at The London Stadium, Varane’s sheer unrelenting genius went unappreciated. Just as it did against Southampton, or Wolves. Games United would 100% have lost were it not for Varane’s defensive brilliance.

Then this afternoon, because of Kurt Zouma’s excellence as well as the late drama with Lingard and De Gea, no one will remember that the only reason West Ham didn’t walk away with a famous win is because Raphael Varane is a brick wall that repeatedly stopped their shots and crosses and passes. He remains Mr. Unappreciated.

Winner: Cristiano Ronaldo

Lost in all the hype of the game’s ending is the fact that Cristiano Ronaldo scored for Manchester United. Again. He has now netted four goals in the three games he’s played since his return, scoring in each one. And frankly he could have scored more this afternoon and not just from the spot had those penalties been given. He also missed a thoroughly presentable chance right at the start of the second-half where he was put 1-v-1 with Lukasz Fabianski and shot straight at the Hammers stopper.

Whatever you think of Cristiano as a person, as a footballer he is still incredibly potent and dangerous in the final third.