Manchester United vs. West Ham United: Call It a Comeback
Manchester United looked to be on the ropes at halftime against West Ham, down 2-0 as a result of two Mark Noble penalties, but a Wayne Rooney hat trick and a Chicharito brace to boot in the second half gave the Red Devils a crucial 4-2 victory.
With the win, United stay top of the table, putting all the pressure on title chasers, Arsenal.
The victory also gives Sir Alex Ferguson and company some much-needed momentum going into a massive Champions League quarterfinals match up at Chelsea on Tuesday.
The loss drops West Ham back into the bottom three, which means another late-season fight for Premier League survival for Scott Parker and Hammer faithful.
Let's take a look at a few talking points from the match and where both teams goes from here.
Manchester United Assessment
Manchester United were favored to draw away from home by most experts, but were looking at their fourth loss in six matches when the second-half whistle blew.
Despite dominating possession (match ended with United at 67 percent to the Hammers at 33 percent), United's defense looked sluggish, especially Nemanja Vidic, who is clearly not 100 percent after recovering from a calf injury over the international break.
The Patrice Evra handball was bad luck on the Frenchman's part after being left alone against Carlton Cole following a long ball out of the Hammers' defense. He conceded the first penalty for the Red Devils, which Mark Noble had no problem converting.
Only a few minutes later, Vidic was caught out of position on the edge of the box against Cole, resulting in a bad tackle leading to the Hammers' second. Some may argue that first contact was on the edge of the box, but Lee Mason pointed to the United penalty spot where Mark Noble calmly drove home his second.
However, Sir Alex Ferguson's side came alive in the second half following the introduction of Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez and Dimitar Berbatov.
Rooney slotted home a fantastic free kick shortly after Berbatov's introduction before slicing home a second with his right after beating the West Ham defense inside their own box.
Fabio then made a dangerous run into the box and was lucky to play the ball of Matthew Upson's arm near the Hammer's goal line, which resulted in Rooney's third, taken from the penalty spot.
A few minutes later, Berbatov split the Hammers' defense to set up United's "Mex-Factor," Chicharito, for a simple chip shot into West Ham's net to capture all three points for the Red Devils.
The win gives United some much-needed breathing room at the top of the table with Arsenal set to play Blackburn later this afternoon afternoon.
The long-awaited return of Park Ji-Sung, with Antonio Valencia looking close to top form, means United are starting look much more healthy in the attack from here on out. United were also able to save Nani for the Champions League meeting at Stamford Bridge next week, with the Portuguese attacker only making a late cameo near the match's end.
West Ham United Assessment
West Ham looked almost certain to be walking out of Upton Park with all three points at halftime, but the Hammers fell apart in the second half due some bad defending and inability to mount the counter-attacks that made them so dangerous during the match's first half.
Carlton Cole was terrorizing the Red Devils' defense in the first half, earning both penalties for the Hammers. Noble was terrific from the spot, but the West Ham's goal-scoring opportunities dried up as the second half started.
Avram Grant is most certainly smarting his decision to not introduce some more defensive bulk into his lineup after Rooney' free kick put United on the score sheet. United's introduction of more attacking talent tore through a West Ham lineup that was nothing short of solid during the first half.
James Tomkins, Jonathan Spector and Winston Reid were all available on the bench, but Grant chose to stick with a 4-3-3 formation that was failing to hold onto the ball instead of shifting to a more defensive lineup to stymie United's attack. By the time he introduced strikers Robbie Keane and Victor Obinna, the Hammers' cause was all but lost.
Gary O'Neill and Demba Ba very rarely saw the ball in the second half, while switching Frederic Piquionne for Cole after United's first goal failed to reignite the Hammer's front line.
West Ham's midfield trio of Scott Parker, Mark Noble and Thomas Hitzlsperger failed to split United's weak central midfield combination of Michael Carrick and Darron Gibson, who did a decent job of dishing out the ball for United despite their lack of experience playing together.
Robert Green made some spectacular first-half saves but could do very little against United's second-half onslaught, with nearly every member of the Hammers' defense buckling under the pressure.
The Hammers looked like a top-half team in the first half, but devolved back into a prime relegation candidate during the second half. They need to learn to rescue points if they want to have any chance of staying up this season.
Man of the Match
This was an easy one. Rooney was nothing short of mediocre during the first half, but the introduction of Berbatov and Hernandez allowed the English striker more freedom in the United attack.
His free kick from 25 yards out was spectacular. It curled impeccably over West Ham's wall, which stayed glued to the pitch by the way, leaving the West Ham keeper stranded.
He then held off the Hammers' defense to turn home his second near the top right of their penalty area before earning United the victory through a well-taken shot from the penalty spot.
It was a memorable hat trick, and the fact that Rooney is starting to reach top form at this point in the season bodes well for United's chances of a big silverware haul at season's end.
Unusual Stat: That's a Lot of Corners
United's dominance in possession (67 to 33 percent) is second to their corner kick ratio. United earned 16 corners to Wet Ham's zero.
Amazingly, United failed to convert any of those corners into goals, despite Chris Smalling coming close on two occasions.
The massive amount of corners for the Red Devils actually hurt them in the first half, with most of West Ham's counter-attack coming after United corners. Smalling and Vidic were constantly caught out of position while running back, which was why United seem so stretched during the first half.
Manchester United: Fixture List Starting To Get Crowded
United have a busy schedule from here on out. They have to travel to London on Wednesday for a huge Champions League matchup with Chelsea.
They come back to Old Trafford to face Fulham next weekend and then have their Champions League home tie with Chelsea the middle of the following week.
After all that, they travel back to London for their FA Cup Semifinal matchup with rivals Manchester City on April 16, so things are nothing short of hectic for the Red Devils this spring.
That's four matches in the period of 11 days, and the schedule is only going to get more crowded if they advance to the next round of the Champions League.
United looks to be getting healthy at nearly every position at the right time with Michael Owen, Park Ji-Sung and Anderson all returning from injury, while Rafael and Rio Ferdinand are back in training.
With Owen Hargreaves the only long-term casualty for the Red Devils right now, they should have plenty of talent available to stay more than competitive in all competitions for the remainder of the current campaign.
West Ham United: Playing Survivor Again
The total and complete opposite of United's situation, West Ham just need to focus on Premier League survival from here on out.
They travel to the Reebok Stadium next weekend to face a strong Bolton side before welcoming fellow relegation fighters Aston Villa to Upton Park the following weekend.
After that, they still have back-to-back away fixtures at Manchester City and Chelsea, which are going to be incredibly hard places to walk away with positive points.
The Hammers need to win more than half their remaining fixtures, because even reaching the 40-point mark may not guarantee safety this year, and West Ham will be doing their fans an incredible disservice if they drop down with the talent they have at their disposal.
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