Manchester United: An Extremely Belated West Ham Analysis and Recap

Nathan LoweAnalyst IApril 5, 2011

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 02:  Dimitar Berbatov of Manchester United looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Manchester United at the Boleyn Ground on April 2, 2011 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

It's important to take a step back whenever a whole team appears individually to play their best football on a given matchday.

The spoiler here is that the team they were playing on the afternoon was undoubtedly a steaming pile of crap.

Put the two together and you have Manchester United's outstanding come-from-behind victory against West Ham in London on Saturday.

Man Red were the far better side from the first whistle, though it took a second-half restart before the scoreline began reflecting it.

First half unluck

In the first frame, they dominated. But West Ham scored first and second, both from justifiable penalties resulting from some absent-minded defending from the visitors.

These two instances comprised the great majority of any good West Ham moves on the day as they were total balls.

But on nine minutes, Evra was wonky in his positioning and let Cole get ahead of him on a punt from Green. He recovered, but then bit hard on a deke and cynically put his arms up to block the English striker's flick-over; stone-cold penalty.

I thought everyone knew Noble was going left from the spot, but Kusczack wasn't in on it so West Ham took an early lead 1-0.

The second penalty incident was also interesting. Vidic purposefully fouled Cole thinking they were out of the box after the Englishman coolly shifted his weight to drift by him.

It was a bemusing decision from the great defender, almost like he felt he was being clever when he was just being bad.

Noble's execution from the second penalty was perfect, this time driving the spotkick into the top-right corner.

West Ham led 2-0, but they were not winning on the field. Demba Ba and Cole were dangerous for the Hammers up top, but their midfield and defense were extremely poor, allowing Carrick and Gibson, of all bloody people, and everyone else in white, to dominate possession.

Parker did his darndest to be everywhere all the time, but many of his second-rate teammates let United enjoy space all over the field.

Noble was weak, Hitzlesperger anonymous, Da Costa was abhorrent, and "Jacobson" was completely outclassed, and whoever else they were playing did little to earn any acclaim or notice.

Manchester United were winning corners, recovering them, then winning more corners. They piled forward to threaten from any position, but they couldn't finish.

Sir Alex's riskless gamble

Things somehow, but certainly, got infinitely better for Man United at half-time. No hair-dryer; Ferguson told his guys they were playing great, as they were.

But he dropped a bomb on popular reality by introducing Hernandez for Evra, moving Giggs to left-back, for nothing.

He got it right...big time. His side tore the Hammers apart for the next forty-eight minutes.

Hernandez was extremely effective, as ever...being possibly the footballing reincarnation of Nelson Mandela. Invariably he dropped deep, tapped off to Rooney, then sprinted far and wide to continue play or stab at inevitable crosses from our widemen.

While Chicharito stretched West Ham, Rooney dropped in; Carrick and Gibson played one-time passes through the middle—imagine saying that!—as Valencia and Park continued their excellent first halves.

At left back, Giggs had space for days going forward and got stuck-in with some nasty tackles at the back foot. It was a gift from the footballing gods.

Berbatov inspires through nonchalant gangster aura

United didn't dagger until Beratov came on, though.

As the Bulgarian trotted in at 62 minutes, Rooney fired a 22-yard free-kick, with deliberate technique, over and into the goal's left corner, thereby initiating his transformation from average to match-winning (to ignominious).

At this point, several of United's players were untouchable. It was as if Berbatov entered and collected  all his teammates. He took a hand in everything United did going forward, failing to turn the ball over once in a half hour.

Fabio and Valencia were crazed demons. Giggs had stars in his eyes. Hernandez' smile stretched around his head.

Carrick and Gibson made few if any mistakes in the middle. They were winning headers, getting stuck-in, and playing quick forward passes. It was like the freaking Twilight Zone.

West Ham were walking trash. They were tired and unfocused, turning the ball over willy-nilly without provocation. The few times they got forward they were offside, committed some arbitrary foul, or were stamped out easily.

The visitors' second goal was pure sickness. It began on 72 minutes with each United striker dropping deep in succession to wall pass backwards.

Berbatov was last. He turned to glide into West Ham's defense, then shuffled the ball right to Rooney who fed Hernandez, the three strikers then interchanging with each other.

The ball came out to Valencia who played back and forth with Fabio twice before crossing into Rooney, who had sneakily found space across the edge of West Ham's box.

His first touch was perfect, the backspin on the ball setting up his right instep, and he fired professionally like Jean Reno into Green's bottom corner for his 100th goal for United.

The match was tied at two. There would only be one winner.

United ran circles around the hosts utilizing better engines and thereby better movement. On 77 minutes, Valencia and Fabio tore up the right side before the Brazilian ploughed into the box, eventually passing off a West Ham arm. The referee blew whistle. 

It was clearly ball-to-hand, a bad call. Rooney slotted home the penalty. 3-2. 

United continued bombing forward, and it was disgusting. Berbatov would school a defender, let him catch up to him, then school him again. He was so gangster, the Andy Garcia look-a-like. A fourth was inevitable.

It came on 83 minutes. A Koschank punt was turned over to Rooney for no reason. He stormed into West Ham's defense, eventually finding Berbatov in the middle.

The Bulgars disinterestedly played in Giggs overlapping on the left. The Welshman drove a shot-cross through several immaterial West Ham defenders into a pouncing Hernandez. Chicharito looked like one of those smiley creatures from "Where the Wild Things Are."

Final score 4-2. What a great match. It should have been much worse, like 6-0. Maybe a 9-0.

"It's so intense... what does it mean?"

United's display against West Ham was like bloody double-rainbow awesome. But where the hell did in come from?

Throughout the season, the consensus—echoed from everyone to everybody else ad nausea—was that the league leaders had arrived there without playing particularly well for particularly long during any particular stretch.

Given that West Ham were egregiously out-of-condition, outclassed, and bewildered, should there be any expectation the Red Devils look in any way similar on Wednesday, when they travel to Chelsea for the first leg of their Champions League knockout tie?

Even if Ferguson's men arrive at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday on song, Chelsea will at least have much more say in the matter than the Hammers did. 

It's hard to imagine Carrick and Gibson playing (if at all) out of their heads against Essien and anyone else.

It's hard enough to even know who Alex will pick. One thing's for sure: Alex won't have the gull to start Giggs at left-back against Chelsea, nor play with two—let alone three—strikers.

Domestic opponents in European ties tend to result in overly tactical matches, but if Fergie starts too passively at Stamford Bridge—as he did against Marseille in the first leg of the last tie—I wouldn't expect the Blues to let them off the hook.

United need an away goal in London. Anything else will be failure.


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