West Ham United vs. Manchester United: 6 Things We Learned
In the end, in spite of a line-up heavily influenced by injury, United put in one of their most impressive performances of the season, to defeat the Hammers 2-0.
Here are six things we learned from watching the tie. And where else to start, but that goal...
Wayne Rooney Still Has Some Magic in Him
From just inside the halfway line, with David Beckham watching on from the stands, Rooney scored an absolute wonder goal.
One of the frustrations of watching Rooney in recent seasons is that some of the magic appears to have gone out of his game. But, just like the magnificent overhead kick against Manchester City in 2011, this goal showed that the young man still has the means to absolutely take our breath away.
Marouane Fellaini Is Beginning to Show Promise at Manchester United
Marouane Fellaini performed excellently against West Ham. He provided tremendous cover for the defense, and he contributed to Manchester United's fine passing play, with 56 of his 67 pass attempts finding a man in a red shirt, per Squawka.com.
His all-action display is indicated by his Squawka heat map, which shows him involved in action all over the pitch.
There are still some rough edges to Fellaini. United fans may legitimately ask how many of the five fouls he gave away were strictly necessary, and he looked to be fortunate not to concede a penalty following his challenge on Mohamed Diame, early in the game.
However, if Fellaini can start to exert this type of influence in more challenging games, the £27.5 million transfer fee United paid for him, per BBC sport, may look a little more reasonable.
Shinji Kagawa and Juan Mata Can Bring the Best Out in Each Other
Juan Mata and Shinji Kagawa were ostensibly playing, respectively, behind the striker and on the left wing. However, the platform provided by the midfielders behind them, and their own intelligent movement and interplay, helped the two playmakers to combine to tremendous effect.
Their pass-completion maps, per Squawka.com, look wonderful and, indeed, remarkably similar. They show excellent ball retention, with Kagawa completing 51 of 56 passes successfully and Mata completing 50 of 53.
To those who saw the performance, they provide an excellent graphical representation of the manner of the play.
With quick, short, effective passing, and an eye toward the key pass, the duo helped United exert an almost complete control over proceedings.
It was beautiful to watch.
David Moyes Has to See That United Are Better-Suited to Possession Football
David Moyes' Manchester United have not always been pretty to watch.
The standout examples of this may have been the recent defeats away to Olympiakos and at home to Liverpool, but for sheer tactical ineptitude, it is hard to beat the home tie against Fulham, wherein United notoriously attempted 81 crosses, per Squawka.com.
That kind of percentage, hit-and-hope football is ill-suited to the extraordinary talents Moyes has at his disposal. Manchester United's most impressive performances during his tenure have seen United's key creative players make a telling contribution. For example, there's Shinji Kagawa's positive involvement in the five-nil defeat of Bayer Leverkusen, per The Guardian.
Moyes simply must learn the lesson, that his best assets are at their most effective when given the freedom to properly express their abilities, if he is to find success in his role.
Playing Rooney at '9' Gives Moyes Better Options Than Playing Him at '10'
The injury to Robin van Persie was a blow to United's season, but the silver lining of that considerable cloud is that Moyes has been forced to vary from his dedication to playing Wayne Rooney behind the striker.
With Rooney providing two goals from his "No. 9" role against West Ham, and United's attacking midfielders shining, the spectre is raised of leaving either Rooney or van Persie out of the side when they are both fit.
This game provided some evidence for the argument that United are more fluent with Rooney as a striker than they are when he plays in a deeper role, with Kagawa and Mata offering better options at "No. 10."
A Ball Playing Central Defender Is a Key Piece of the Puzzle
Michael Carrick's selection at centre-back was, naturally, a cause of some concern ahead of kick-off. Called into action there because of United's raft of defensive injuries, he was fortunate that he was not called into crucial defensive action all that often.
However, he did play a key role in starting United's attacks—making simple, effective passes to United's midfielders, per Squawka.com, enabling United to play out from the back. This helped set the tone of United's possession game, and a central defender who is comfortable in possession is crucial if Moyes is going to develop a more fluid approach.