There is a saying that goes, “The best defense is a good offense,” and it’d be fair to say that’s the strategy of Manchester United at present.
Erasing the memory of the infamous 5-3 defeat to Leicester City was always going to be the goal against West Ham. Playing at in front of the home fans at Old Trafford on Saturday provided the ideal opportunity. Interestingly enough this match started much the same as that embarrassing memory from last weekend.
Quickly United found itself ahead by multiple goals thanks to its potent strikeforce, first through Rooney then Van Persie. But once again, just as it seemed as if United was enjoying their weekend stroll around the park, the leaky defense reared its ugly head, and allowed the Hammers back into the game.
With the scoreline 2-1, the halftime the murmurs around the Theatre of Dreams were, “It couldn’t happen again, could it?”
A worst-case scenario for United followed as Rooney was sent-off for a petulant kick-out at Stewart Downing. The United skipper was booted from an EPL match for the first time in five years when attempting to slow down West Ham’s counter attack, but allowed his frustration at a few recent no-calls to get the best of him. If the immature Rooney returns to Old Trafford, Louis van Gaal will have another massive problem to add to his ever-growing queue.
United have played the three promoted teams from last year and have beaten one, tied one and drew one. Not in the least what you’d expect from the 20-time champions.
Watching the new-look United feels as if you’re peering in on one of their training sessions. The chemistry isn’t there and the entire squad is attempting to communicate on the fly, each relying on their lifetime of football acumen to assume where their teammate is going to be, rather than the normally structured team dynamic.
The point being, things can’t seemingly get worse for United at this point and their still finding ways to win games. They will eventually find some sense of cohesion. Then and only then can the potential of United be fully judged.
An unlikely quartet of Rafael, Marcos Rojo and two 19-year-old debutants in Paddy McNair and Luke Shaw proved to be enough for 10-man United against the punchless and predictable West Ham attack.
Positives weren’t exactly flowing from this match for United, but for a side that has proved it can play beautifully going forward, an ugly win that relied on team defense may not be the worse thing.
David De Gea – 7
Came for the cross from on the corner kick in question but was nowhere near it. The resulting melee saw Diafra Sakho pull one back for the Hammers. The sequence resembled De Gea’s first term in English football when his struggles with the physicality were well-documented. He did, however, make the all important save on Sakho later in the game.
Rafael – 8
Blazed down the right flank and put in a peach of a cross that Rooney latched onto brilliantly for the opener. The Brazilian provided energy from start to finish, and more refreshingly didn’t display the defensive frailties that have plagued his career at times. He played composed against West Ham and Van Gaal seems to be warming to him.
Paddy McNair — 7
McNair’s debut was made that much more contentious by the Rooney sending-off. He was quiet throughout and was clearly doing what he could take as few a chances as possible going forward. The young Northern Irishman showed his quality when he made an extravagant defensive header against the run of play that saved a sure goal from Carlton Cole.
Marcos Rojo – 6
It’s a tall task to ask the Argentine to lead the defense in just his third start, but due to injuries and suspensions that’s exactly what Louis Van Gaal was forced to do. Still, Rojo played the part and did just enough to keep West Ham at bay. His distribution was incredibly poor, however.
Luke Shaw – 6
Shaw had little to do as much of United’s play funneled down the right-hand side. A flash of his brilliance and technical skill came on one foray down the flank when he combined with Di Maria. The 19-year-old impressed mostly with his reliable defending. His offensive upside, especially if its dovetailed with the Argentine winger, is beyond intriguing.
Ander Herrera – 7
Did everything that was asked of him – connecting play with smart passing and putting in hard tackles where need be. Herrera and Daley Blind provide United with two well-rounded central midfielders who can both use their skills offensively and defensively; an axis of those two breads confidence.
Wayne Rooney – 5
Well, we’ve seen this Rooney before. First the 28-year-old scored a highlight-reel goal by curling in a one-time shot past Adrian for the opener. That’s the positive of Rooney. Here’s the negative: West Ham we’re knocking on the door trailing one and starting the second half brightly when Rooney clattered Stewart Downing on the thigh after a decision didn’t go the England captain’s way. It was clearly frustration manifested and it earned him a straight red card. It’s was the last thing United needed from its new captain on such a pivotal day.
Daley Blind – 7.5
Blind’s play doesn’t always catch the eye, but it’s his intelligent blue-collar work that United so desperately need in its engine room. The 24-year-old plays with the mind of a veteran midfielder 10 years his senior. Right now he’s the unheralded linchpin holding this United side together.
Angel Di Maria — 6
Missed a glorious chance when Herrera found him wide open and streaking at the top of the box. With so much talent in the United team even a player as skilled as Di Maria can drift out of a match as others step to the forefront. Thus was the case against West Ham. His worst performance in a red shirt, days like this will be few and far between.
Radamel Falcao – 7
He looked dangerous per usual, but didn’t excite beyond that. His smart link-up play earns him the higher-end rating. The Colombian’s most noteworthy contribution was setting up Van Persie’s goal after the steal by Herrera.
Robin Van Persie — 7
With Falcao now in the team it’s a question of who will be dropped among the United attack. So far the answer appears to be Juan Mata, but some are suggesting it should be the Dutchman. Competition is good for United. Van Persie looks hungry as ever to score and expertly finished his first chance with his weaker foot to give United a two-goal lead.
Antonio Valencia –
Came on in the 74th minute for an injured Ander Herrera.
West Ham United
Adrian – 6
A skilled keeper no doubt, but his mental capabilities leave one wondering what mistake he’ll make next. He was not at fault on either United goal.
Guy Demel – 5
Had little effect on the game. Played in a great cross on the one occasion he was asked to do so. He was subbed off for Carl Jenkinson in the _ minute.
James Tomkins – 7
A strong and imposing force in defense, Tomkins made no mistakes and was a threat on set pieces going forward. The 25-year-old is calm and composed with his movement. Another Premier League side may look to scoop him up at some point.
Winston Reid – 6
Like Tomkins, Reid had little to do in the central of defense. United’s goals were to quick-fire strikes that left the midfield to blame.
Aaron Cresswell – 6.5
An intriguing youngster, Cresswell, 24, may have been looking across the pitch at Luke Shaw and thinking that he could make a run for his place in the England team. Cresswell gave the Hammers an attacking option down the left flank. His service at times was fantastic, but lacks consistency.
Morgan Amalfitano – 5
The Frenchmen played little role throughout the match and was eventually substituted. His mind is still on the goal he surprisingly scored against Liverpool last weekend.
Stewart Downing – 4
Downing has proved at times to be an offensive force in England’s top division. So far this campaign he’s proven that his time at Liverpool wasn’t his best showing and that he’s still got a lot to offer. Today, though, was a regression as he didn’t provide the impetus offensively that is expected of him in this team.
Alex Song – 2
If you’re wondering how Song’s star has fallen so fast after being at the likes of Arsenal and Barcelona, look no further than this performance. The midfielder is undisciplined, especially for a veteran. He fouled Di Maria two times in the first two minutes, picking up a yellow card for his latter effort. The Cameroon international also blatantly miscued when he allowed Ander Herrera to steal the ball from him deep in his own end, with the play resulting in what was eventually the game-winning goal.
Diego Poyet – 4
Occupying Alex Song’s favored role in front of the back four, Poyet’s place in the team given to him by his manager suggests bright things in the off for the 19-year-old. On the day, though, the young Spaniard didn’t feature much and looked nervous when Falcao barred down on him in the first half.
Diafra Sakho – 8
The most dangerous Hammer going forward, he scored an opportune opener by being in the right place at the right time and heading home during a goal-mouth fracas after a corner kick. He could have leveled with a pristine volley if not for a great positional save by De Gea.
Enner Valencia – 7.5
Some of the quickest feet you will see in the Barclay’s Premier League this season, Valencia is a delight to watch and easily skips past defenders with his electric acceleration. The Ecuadorian ran out of ideas and time as United’s makeshift defense won the day, barely.
Carl Jenkinson – 6.5
65’ – Was a livewire down the right after coming on. Provided the service to Kevin Nolan that almost saw West Ham tie the match.
Kevin Nolan – N/A
Thought he’d scored the equalizer only to be ruled offside.
Carlton Cole – N/A