Football Features

West Ham 1-2 Man Utd: Solskjaer’s side the Premier League’s new ‘mentality monsters’?

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 19:59, 5 December 2020

In an exciting night of football, Manchester United came from behind to beat West Ham 1-3 at The London Stadium.

The win was United’s ninth consecutive victory away from home and has driven them up to fourth in the Premier League. Who were the winners and losers?

Winner: Bruno Fernandes

What more can you say about Bruno Fernandes that hasn’t already been said? The Portuguese seemed a mid-season punt by a desperate United side when he joined a year ago, but he’s turned out to be one of the very best signings The Red Devils have made since their fantastic 2006 (when they signed Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra and Michael Carrick).

Today he was rested by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer but had to be summoned to rescue to the team. And when he came on, everything picked up. Suddenly there was leadership, suddenly there was vision, ideas, daring, intelligence, structure. Suddenly there was a football team.

Fernandes created 8 chances against West Ham, that’s more than all his team-mates combined. In fact it’s the joint-most created by a player who has played 45 minutes or less in the history of the Premier League. All in all, he has 35 chances created in the league so far, and that is more than any other player in all of Europe’s top five leagues.

The man is superhuman.

Loser: Anthony Martial

After a fantastic first season back in the no. 9 shirt last year, where he finished as the team’s top scorer on 23 goals, Anthony Martial has scored just twice all season and not at all in the last 8 games for club and country. And he’s played big minutes in those games, yet never looked comfortable or threatening. The defeat to PSG midweek can be laid wholly at his feet as he missed two glorious 1-v-1’s that would have put United ahead of the Parisians. And tonight he played just one hour and for that hour he was miserable.

Martial’s ability to link with team-mates and move remains high quality, but he just cannot seem to add any sense of threat to that, which means that teams don’t have to fear him the way they do other United forwards. It’s not a coincidence that United started scoring once he was taken off, and with Edinson Cavani, Mason Greenwood and Juan Mata all playing well, his first-team prospects don’t look good.

Winner: Mason Greenwood

Last season Mason Greenwood defied the nerds to hammer home 17 goals. This season it’s been revenge of the nerds and he came into today’s game with just two goals, neither of which was in the Premier League. And he spent the first hour of this game playing on the right and looking pretty useless.

But then Juan Mata came on, Martial went off, and Mason Greenwood went up-front. And once that change happened, not only did United click into gear but so did Greenwood. The youngster’s movement and instincts are sublime, but he is no winger. He often struggles when dribbling 1v1, yet put him in a tight space in the box and, well, just look at his goal. One touch to collect the cross and play it perfectly into space, spinning on the spot and striking it so sweetly low and into the back of the net.

Mason Greenwood is a born goalscorer. Just let him shoot.

Loser: Solskjaer’s pre-game management

Manchester United spent the first half of this game in a drunken stupor. Well, not literally, but it did seem that way. There was no passing, no cohesion, no invention. The ball went forward and then West Ham rebuffed it with ease and the ball came rushing back at a United defence who could not cope with them.

Paul Pogba looked short of fitness for someone who we know is short of fitness. Harry Maguire was offering no leadership for a guy wearing the armband. Martial’s been covered. The less said about Victor Lindelof’s non-defending the better. Donny van de Beek was like a man trying to keep 10 plates spinning while someone kept punching him in the stomach.

Basically it was a miracle West Ham had just the one goal. United should have been dead and buried.

Winner: Solskjaer’s mid-game management

But they weren’t dead and buried, and so at half-time Solskjaer did what he’s been doing all season: he stepped it up. On came Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford, the two best players at the football club, and business picked up. Not too much, mind, something was missing. Then Martial was removed and Juan Mata came on and it was go-time.

Two goals in three minutes, a thunderbolt from Pogba (just about the only good thing he did all game but my goodness what a strike) and Greenwood’s gorgeous strike, turned the game on its head. United remained on-top and could have gotten more, until they did get more. A beautifully aware pass back from Bruno Fernandes and then a supreme, superhuman and unreal pass through from Mata found Rashford who finished confidently. 1-3 and game over. The Englishman’s appearance well and truly stretched the opposition and his movement was so sharp and so clinical that it just perforated the West Ham defence. He is carrying knocks right now but he is also carrying the United attack. Marcus Rashford MBE, what a man.

Manchester United have now won 21 points from losing positions since the Premier League restarted in June. That is more than any club in that timeframe (Liverpool are next with 12). Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may struggle to set things up but he is brilliant at mid-game adjustments. Just like last week at Southampton, he brings the right men on at the right time and United just pick up the pace and steamroll their opponents.

After all their struggles so far this season, Manchester United are up to fourth place and they’re just two points off the top. That is because Ole Gunnar Solskjaer knows how to change a game that isn’t going his way and, while we may consider how easily United look to push over early in games, once their manager gets a chance to talk to them they turn into the Premier League’s new Mentality Monsters.

Loser: David Moyes

Poor David Moyes. He wants so much to beat Manchester United, and for an hour West Ham looked exactly like they were going to do it. The Irons were incredibly compact and yet also managed to explode forward with the likes of Jarrod Bowen just dicing up the United defence every time he touched the damn ball.

Yet West Ham were unable to hold their nerve. Their energy dipped in the second-half but they were still superior, however once Manchester United turned up the heat on the hour mark, West Ham got the hell out of the kitchen. It was strange that David Moyes could find no riposte to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s changes no matter what he tried – and although he must be frustrated at the fact that in the build-up to United’s equaliser the ball surely must have gone out of play but VAR was unable to find an angle to prove it beyond doubt so had to allow the goal to stand, in all honesty the way West Ham folded under pressure is no one’s fault but his own.

If Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can rouse his own men, Moyes has no excuse.