Progression in the FA Cup was priority ahead of the start of the game after a dismal defeat at White Hart Lane – and for once, United under Louis Van Gaal, delivered not only when it truly mattered but when the odds were stacked totally against them. Never have we seen a team so confident of beating Manchester United, prior to the game, West Ham United had it all laid out for them on a platter – last ever cup game in their 112-year old stadium helping multiply the magnitude of the occasion which only seemed perfect for their players to feed off. But as it turned out, it all proved too much for Bilic’s so-far-so-impressive West Ham United outfit as Man United pulled off, what was by all accounts, an upset, in theory.
West Ham United started well – attacking the Sir Trevor Booking stand in the first half when Enner Valencia constantly managed to find space behind a nervous Timothy Fosu-Mensah, even getting himself in good positions inside the box, firing a couple of decent shots on target at David De Gea, without much malice. But the visitors slowly grew into the game with Michael Carrick playing a key role as the veteran rolled back the years dictating play as Ander Herrera did the dirty work in front of him covering ground and often rotating possession when necessary. It’s no coincidence that Man United end up playing well, or playing anything remotely close to exciting, when they play with either Carrick or Schneiderlin sitting deeper but not both and today was testament to that.
Average positions of both sets of players
United were generally very positive from the outset which was more pronounced when Fellaini, someone we would usually find close to Carrick in a deeper role passing sideways, advanced forward, helping out Rashford and Martial in the final third. Fellaini, scorer of the winning goal, had a good chance to open the scoring himself when Lingard found him unmarked in the box in the first half – shows how determined the visitors were to open the scoring and pile the pressure on the Hammers.
The absolute highlight of a game which was largely uninteresting and cagey in truth, was Rashford’s opening goal. If there’s anything Louis Van Gaal can look back and reflect on with pride once he retires as a manager, it’s how pivotal a role he’s played in the careers of some of the bright and promising youngsters at United – unearthing some of the most exciting prospects the club’s been witness to, for years, in Marcus Rashford, Timothy Fosu-Mensah and even the likes of Jesse Lingard, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson who could all play vital roles in the future of Manchester United.
The 18-year old local lad from Wythenshawe has already proved to be one of United’s most important players in their squad at this moment in time, and it’s ridiculous to think how big a role he would be playing for the Red Devils in the coming years under a different manager. He’s already scored 6 goals in 11 appearances and to be fair to him, all of those have come in real big occasions when his side simply couldn’t afford to lose. This one might have been the most significant of them all and arguably the best of the lot too. He showed great sense of composure and tenacity to hold onto the ball and with little reaction time he managed to ping it into the top right corner sending 5000 away fans into a state of delirium, Rashford has launched himself right into the hearts of the United folklore with that goal.
Marcus Rashford – Touches against West Ham
Also, not to mention, credit has to be given to the back four for nullifying much of the threat provided by Payet, Lanzini and Carroll in the final third at least until before the 80th minute. On a night when David De Gea still had to work his magic and successfully make about 10 saves including two remarkable efforts from point blank range, United’s defending on the day was largely solid, given the circumstance and the opponent. It was one of those memorable wins under the belt for Van Gaal following a hugely dispiriting result.
But with two consecutive home games in the league next and a long-awaited trip to Wembley Stadium to face Everton in the semi-final of the FA Cup, it won’t be unwise to say the season has just begun for Manchester United.