Rating the Man United Players Against West Ham
Incredibly fortunate to still be in the competition, it was once again a story of Manchester United staging a desperately late comeback against West Ham this weekend in order to maintain their FA Cup run.
Despite starting the scoring through a Tom Cleverley opener, the Red Devils soon succumbed to a James Collins/Joe Cole partnership working to deadly effect and found themselves behind.
However, a Robin van Persie equaliser in the 91st saw the visitors go level, earning themselves a Fourth Round replay in two weeks’ time.
In an encounter that many a Manchester United supporter will assuredly have found disappointing, there were both weak links and strong in this last-ditch fixture, rated here on a scale out of 10.
Goalkeeper – David De Gea
With the defensive situation at Old Trafford proving to be the one thing potentially sinking their season, it’s of little surprise that the Red Devils came away from Upton Park with their clean sheet anything but intact.
That being said, the two goals conceded in East London were of little, if no, fault of David de Gea’s, and any goalkeeper of the highest calibre would have found it nigh impossible to stop either of West Ham’s goals.
Apart from the James Collins brace, De Gea went largely unchallenged in the Manchester United net but responded as Sir Alex Ferguson would have desired when needed, showing his shot-stopping reactions to be as strong as ever.
The Spaniard has shown himself to have improved greatly when it comes to the physical side of the game, clutching high balls down with general ease, regardless of how rare that might have been.
Right-Back – Chris Smalling
With Rafael switched into a more advanced position, Chris Smalling was left to fill in at right-back and not for the first time this season.
Unfortunately for the visitors, it was all too clear to see that Smalling was playing out of position on Saturday, exposed all too often by a combination of Joe Cole, Ricard Vaz Te and Matt Jarvis.
In terms of speed, Smalling didn’t offer nearly the same advantages that Rafael would have at the back and was far from giving the same advantages going forward also.
Despite forming a successful partnership early on, it wasn’t long until the Rafael/Smalling link withered significantly, much to the approval of Joe Cole and Sam Allardyce.
Should team selection allow it, one wouldn’t think that Smalling will be featuring too prominently anywhere except the centre of defence in the near future.
Left-Back – Alexander Büttner
Handed a rare start in order to give the aging Patrice Evra a rest on the sidelines, Alexander Büttner made just his seventh senior appearance as a Manchester United player at Upton Park.
The former Vitesse defender certainly coped better than his opposite full-back, Smalling, and managed to restrain the West Ham probes coming down his flank with relative confidence.
When those in front of him were able to hold the ball up in attack, Büttner proved a useful asset down the left wing and did well not to get caught out at the back.
Despite his relative inexperience as a Red Devil, the Dutchman looked far from out of place in East London and gave Sir Alex Ferguson good reason to hand him further starts in the future.
However, Matt Jarvis did provide Büttner with a renewed challenge in the second half, and there was the occasion where Guy Demel found it all too easy to get around his man.
Centre-Back – Nemanja Vidic
One of the most experienced members of the Manchester United squad would be expected to lead the defensive line with a huge sense of maturity, especially given the amount of youth currently making its way through the Red Devil ranks.
Unluckily for Manchester United, even Nemanja Vidic had a slightly mediocre day at the office and could have done more about James Collins’ second goal in particular.
A manager would assuredly like to be able to rely on his premier defender to pick up the opposite team’s pillar, Collins representing West Ham’s most potent aerial threat.
What’s more, the 30-year-old was fortunate to have gotten away with a penalty at one point as Martin Atkinson appeared to miss what was quite a blatant push on the opposition.
However, while Vidic may not have picked up the appropriate man here and there, the sheer magnitude of defensive clearances made by the Serbian lift the overall blame off his shoulders considerably.
The Hammers posed a very constant aerial threat and pumped a very decent portion of “Route One” football over the 90 minutes, a lot of which was alleviated due to Vidic.
Overall, the trip to Upton Park was far from Vidic’s best in a Manchester United shirt, appropriately represented in the score.
Centre-Back – Jonny Evans
As part of a centre-back partnership, it seems only appropriate that while the second goal can be pinned down to bad tracking from Vidic, the first could largely be attributed to a defensive lapse courtesy of Jonny Evans.
With that in mind, there wasn’t too much that Evans did wrong in what was a fairly assured display from the Northern Irishman.
Evans coped with the leading presence of Carlton Cole well and distributed good ball to his midfielders, providing a solid platform for the visiting outfit.
The 25-year-old has been looked upon as a liability in Manchester United’s back four at times, but Saturday provided reason to think Evans might be one of the club’s stronger prospects after signing a new three-and-a-half-year deal.
Centre Midfield – Paul Scholes
Given a start in order to bring some maturity to an otherwise young midfield, Paul Scholes found himself slightly inundated by Hammers and failed to live up to expectations on Saturday.
Without an anchorman to rely upon, Scholes was forced into playing the role himself and, despite some very impressive play in the first 35 minutes, he faded all too quickly before being replaced 20 minutes from time.
Hernandez, Welbeck and Rafael were largely grateful for the ease of possession given to them as a result of Scholes' dictatorial style, slowing or speeding the tempo as and where it was necessary.
Apart from keeping the fluidity of play alive and the odd piece of majesty, the Manchester United veteran wasn’t sensational in attack and did little in defence, picking up a caution just minutes after seeing his side go ahead.
A pretty average performance.
Centre Midfield – Tom Cleverley
Continuing to flourish in his newfound responsibilities this season, it was Cleverley’s shrewd awareness and even shrewder finishing that led to Manchester United taking the lead in the first place.
The 23-year-old fulfilled the job passed down to him by the departing Scholes but could have been more consistent in his playmaking ventures.
That being said, another goal scoring performance from the England international will be encouraging for Sir Alex Ferguson, who should feel confident playing the youngster alongside a more defensively inclined midfield partner.
With Scholes dropping into a more subdued position, Cleverley continued this campaign’s trend of being the more creative option in the centre of the park, linking play between midfield and attack very well.
Shifting out to the left side in the second half, Cleverley’s play dwindled though and became harder to notice as United suffered.
Left Midfield – Shinji Kagawa
One of his more unnoticeable appearances in the colours of his new club, Shinji Kagawa was a victim of circumstance, with the change of tactics pinning the player out of his usual position.
Instead, Kagawa took up his post on the left side of midfield, before shifting into the centre later on in the match.
That being said, a player of such quality might be desired to make such changes from time to time, especially when injuries start to demand as much during this stage of the season.
The Japanese international failed to link play for those around him and wasn’t running at defenders with the usual conviction he usually does, instead preferring other avenues.
Outside of his trequartista role, Kagawa failed to get up to his usual speed, contributing to an anonymous display.
Right Midfield – Rafael
Playing in a more advanced position not for the first time in his career, Rafael didn’t exactly grip the chance handed to him at right midfield by the horns.
Admittedly, it was due to some brilliant counter-attacking football that the Brazilian helped in creating the Manchester United opener, but real threats then began to simmer away slightly.
While Rafael began the fixture helping out Smalling well in defence, the youngster was nowhere to be seen in preventing the Joe Cole deliveries that led to West Ham’s goals.
With Ryan Giggs and Antonio Valencia introduced in the second half, Rafael was allowed to revert to his natural right-back spot later on, looking far more comfortable as a result.
All in all, Rafael did well in his duties as a midfielder, but would need more time in the position if he’s to be challenging his winger teammates when fit and healthy.
Striker – Javier Hernandez
Unfortunate not to get on the scoresheet, Javier Hernandez looked as if he needed a burlier buddy to help in holding up the ball in attack instead of doing the job himself for periods.
With Danny Welbeck alongside him, the Mexican international switched between forming a front two and taking up positions out wide but was largely the focus of the Red Devils’ attack.
It was Chicharito that spearheaded the counter for Manchester United’s opener, delivering the ball from which Cleverley would go on to score from.
However, the second half didn’t provide much for Hernandez, and he gave little back before being substituted for Robin van Persie in the 68th minute.
Striker – Danny Welbeck
Forming an attacking duo with the aforementioned Hernandez, Welbeck was largely used as the frontrunner, linking play and holding up the ball for teammates.
However, the youngster clearly became frustrated as the game progressed, sacrificing chances to pass the ball to those in better positions in favour of shooting himself; wrongfully so at times.
One could argue that it should have been Welbeck to come off in the second half instead of Hernandez, who looked to be making better of his attacking opportunities.
Robin van Persie
The scorer of the equalising goal in the 91st minute, there seems to be no stopping the force that is RVP in Manchester United colours, despite only playing 25 minutes.
The Dutchman did excellently to take down a delightful Ryan Giggs pass before finishing with aplomb from just inside West Ham’s area.
With much of the FA Cup team in their infancy, Giggs was brought on in order to present a more mature presence in an otherwise inexperienced midfield.
Having been in similar positions on countless occasions, it’s unsurprising that it was Giggs who provided the exquisite assists for Van Persie’s goal, salvaging a replay from this fixture.
Despite coming on at the same time as Van Persie, Valencia made nowhere near the same impact as his Dutch teammate and continued what has been a rather disappointing string of performances of late.
The Ecuadorian failed to contribute much in attack and his “one-trick pony” act was all too easily sussed out by the Hammers’ defence for periods.