Many milestones have been broken at Old Trafford this season. Most recently, Everton and Newcastle ended overdue winless droughts at the Theatre of Dreams, and West Ham was looking to replicate their achievements. Manchester United were in jeopardy of losing three consecutive home matches for the first time since 1979, as West Ham came into the match confident off their midweek Capital One Cup victory at White Hart Lane.
United took control of the match in the opening minutes, due to West Ham’s cautious approach. The issue David Moyes’ side encountered was the lack of creativity in the final third.
Luckily, Antonio Valencia and Rafael continued to impress down the right flank, completing the most passes between two players. United’s main goal in the first was to overload the right flank – a tactic used during Moyes’ tenure at Everton – Tom Cleverley and Phil Jones drifted forward towards the right, aiming to find openings behind George McCartney, but they rarely harmed the West Ham back line.
United dominated possession in the opening half, but rarely tested Hammers goalkeeper Adrian. However, Danny Welbeck’s inventive back heel to Rooney was the magic Moyes’ side lacked in the final third, and it was fitting that it led to the Englishman’s left-footed strike past the West Ham keeper – his first home goal in 14 months. Subsequently, it was Welbeck’s ability to hold up the ball, and James Collins’ putrid defending that led to Adnan Januzaj’s first goal at Old Trafford, doubling United’s lead and securing three points. The Welbeck/Rooney partnership has reaped rewards in the past, and here, Welbeck was pivotal – thus leaving Moyes worried, when the English striker was forced to leave the match early in the second half.
United’s midfield was untested as Jones comfortably protected the back four, and confidently drove at the heart of the West Ham back line.
Cleverley passed his way through midfield, whilst Rooney began to find pockets of space between the lines, and picked up deeper positions in midfield to demonstrate his excellent passing range and help the midfield duo sustain possession. Also, Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans were magnificent – displaying defensive solidity and assuring that United may have found their new first team centre-back partnership.
Although Carlton Cole found a way through United’s impeccable backline, Moyes’ right side replicated their first half performance and constantly tormented McCartney. The West Ham left back was exposed for United’s third goal when Rafael played a lovely ball to Valencia in the right channel. The Ecuadorian’s cut back pass to Rooney was decent, and the Englishman laid it off to substitute Ashley Young, who struck the ball into the top corner, scoring for the first time in 19 months in front of the United faithful.
West Ham was lethargic for large portions of the match. Sam Allardyce’s men lack a significant focal point to link play and bring the midfield forward – Modiba Maiga was woeful – whereas they relied on creativity from wide areas, and their wingers were unable to get into advanced positions. West Ham’s poor away form played a factor, but Allardyce’s side desperately need a competent target man.
Robin Van Persie – the man who singlehandedly won them the title last year – is unavailable, but Moyes is getting the best out of the players that recently fell out favour with the supporters. United enjoy a manageable festive period, and results of this stature will push Moyes’ side back into the title hunt.
Don’t count out the Red Devils, yet.