With the wound inflicted by Young Boys in the Champions League opener still fresh, Manchester United made the trip to the capital to face former manager David Moyes’ West Ham United. The Hammers themselves had played continental football midweek as they secured an away victory against Dinamo Zagreb in the Europa League.
The excitement was building as the Reds were top of the Premier League table going into this match-week and with cross-town rivals Manchester City dropping points at home to Southampton, securing the 3 points against West Ham was paramount.
- As expected, with Dean Henderson not yet being available for first-team selection, David De Gea started off in goal.
- Despite his red card against Young Boys, Wan-Bissaka was back in the starting lineup
- The CB partnership of Maguire and Varane returned, with Victor Lindelöf notably being absent from the matchday squad altogether
- Scott McTominay returned from injury to partner Fred in the pivot
- Mason Greenwood returned to the starting lineup after not featuring in the Champions League, Jadon Sancho started this game on the bench having started midweek
- Paul Pogba returned to his advanced role on the left with Cristiano Ronaldo leading the line
The First Half
The game began in a rather “open” fashion, with both sides probing and teasing one another in search of the opening goal.
The first notable chance came for West Ham as Benrahma attempted to capitalise on an error from United’s captain to setup a shot for Jarrod Bowen. Despite Bowen’s shot being good, Raphael Varane came to the rescue and valiantly blocked the shot.
The pressure continued by the home side for a few minutes, with David De Gea being forced to make a somewhat unorthodox save with his foot as Bowen once again made an attempt at goal. The ball landed favourably for Soucek however the Czech international was unable to do much more than blaze a shot over the bar.
The tide was quickly turned in United’s favour. When in the 24th minute, Pogba was able to find Ronaldo whose effort was unfortunately straight at Lukasz Fabianski. United continued pushing, and just 4 minutes later came so close via Fernandes whose volley rattled the right post albeit with the West Ham goalkeeper getting a finger onto it first.
Despite all the signs pointing to United scoring the opener, and as we all should expect by now, West Ham ended up scoring the opening goal. In the 30th minute, Said Benrahma put a shot on goal that was lucky to be helped on its way by a deflection off Varane. The consolation for United lay in the fact that this wasn’t some massive chance that West Ham carved to score but rather just a slice of poor luck for the away side.Embed from Getty Images
A slice of poor luck matters little to a side that have the offensive firepower of Manchester United.
United immediately responded by upping the tempo and mounting an assault on the West Ham goal. Played through on goal, Cristiano unfortunately wasn’t able to get a shot away after the West Ham backline had time to recover due to his poor touch, however the ball eventually made its way to Wan-Bissaka who drilled a shot across the face of goal and won a corner for his troubles.
The United forwards smelled a goal and so it came, scored by none other than Cristiano Ronaldo. In the 35th minute, the Portuguese forward latched onto a dangerous cross from his compatriot, Fernandes, and steered a shot on goal. While the initial attempt didn’t go in, the goalkeeper fumbled the ball and Ronaldo, as expected, capitalised instantly to get Manchester United right back into this contest.
The rest of the half concluded rather uneventfully.
The Second Half
United were level but everyone knew that they needed the 3 points at the London Stadium. It just so happened that West Ham’s Pablo Fornals had received the memo too, the Spanish player essentially handing the ball to Bruno Fernandes who setup Cristiano Ronaldo for what should’ve been his brace. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be as the shot was diverted away by the West Ham goalie.
As United’s tempo reduced, West Ham grew into the game. Many a supporter felt as if a substitute needed to be brought on to help revive the spirit of the side and get some fresh legs onto the pitch. To their dismay, David Moyes made the match’s first change with Andriy Yarmolenko coming on to replace Nikola Vlasic.
Soon after, in the 73rd minute, Solskjær made a double substitution, bringing on Jadon Sancho to replace Mason Greenwood and Jesse Lingard to replace Paul Pogba.
It was a nice occasion for Lingard, returning to the stadium where he revitalised his career last season, but this time as a Manchester United player looking to burst the bubble (pun intended, pardon me!) of his temporary employers. He did receive a nice reception from the West Ham supporters upon gracing the London Stadium pitch.
For what seemed like an incredibly long 15 minutes, United tried and tried but were unable to find an opening from which to take the lead. In the 88th minute, Solskjær made his 3rd and final substitution, bringing on Nemanja Matic for Fred.
Nemanja Matic had a huge impact, in my opinion. Immediately United’s midfield was moving the ball with more verve and more intent – probing the West Ham lines to find an opening via which to get the ball to United’s attackers.
He had such an impact that just 1 minute after coming on, he made an assist that gave Manchester United the lead.
Who scored the goal? Of course, it had to be Jesse Lingard. In fact, the perfect way to describe the goal would be as a “Jesse Lingard goal” – a thunderous curling strike straight into the top right corner.Embed from Getty Images
That had to be the game right? Taking the lead in the 89th minute? What else could possibly go wrong?
Turns out, a fair bit. In the 3rd minute of added time, VAR intervened to give West Ham a penalty after it was adjudicated that Luke Shaw had committed a handball. This was a golden lifeline for The Hammers, it was a knife to the throat of the proverbial 3 points for Manchester United.
Most supporters, most like me anyways, had resigned themselves to the fact that this was going to be 2 points dropped in the dying minutes of the game and we would just have to tolerate our sullen mood until United could make amends in the upcoming Carabao Cup match.
Having saved none of the past 20 penalty kicks that he has faced, David De Gea prepared to (at least make an attempt to) save the penalty. David Moyes specifically brought on Mark Noble to take the penalty (isn’t there some unspoken rule about not making a player who has just come on take the penalty? Not that I’m complaining of course!)
David De Gea was in no mood to have a bad start to the week. The Spaniard guessed where Noble was going to strike the penalty perfectly and valiantly made the save to all but guarantee that 3 points were coming back to Manchester.Embed from Getty Images
This was no vintage Manchester United, mind you. It was a somewhat average performance with serious concerns being attributed as to how the team’s playing tempo varies so wildly throughout the course of the 90 minutes, especially since we’re rather dangerous when we up the tempo and move the ball around fast.
But it’s not the time to dive into the intricacies of that, emotional times after both wins and losses never are. (I have broken this self-imposed rule before, guilty as charged!)
It’s 3 points that keep United tied on points with top of the table, Liverpool.
It’s yet another goal for Cristiano Ronaldo on his return, with the Portuguese superstar now having scored in every game he has played upon returning to United. (And believe it or not, he’s already scored as many United goals as Alexis Sanchez had in the entirety of his United career.)
It’s another week where Solskjær and his men can rest, regroup, and prepare for the next game.
Only taking the season game by game can United finish the season with what both the club and its supporters desire most, the biggest trophies. So far, so good.