On a night dominated by Mike Dean and the shouts of the fans at an unusually atmospheric London Stadium, Manchester United managed to get the three points on West Ham United’s turf despite playing far from their best.
There were a lot of talking points in this controversial and high-octane game so let’s get down to talking about a few of those in our match review.
It’s All About Mike Dean & Refereeing Decisions
If you happened to have a look at the Twitter feed after or during the match you might just have seen a few thousand people chastising Mike Dean and the horrible refereeing we witnessed in the match. Rightly so, in my opinion. Mike Dean has always been one of the more ostentatious, ‘weird’ referees, and he proved that statement true again last night.
Phil Jones and Sofiane Feghouli diving in for the ball
Sofiane Feghouli made his first Premier League start for West Ham amid seemingly harmless bubbles and 15 minutes into his first start, he was sent off by Dean for a slide tackle into Phil Jones after which Jones rolled over faster than a speeding Nissan Micra on a wet, pothole-filled, mountain road. “He certainly made a meal of it,” commented Slaven Bilic after the match. Jones did appear to get the ball a split-second before Feghouli -dived in, one-footed mind you, but Jones was diving in as well. If you had to show a card here, it would be a yellow at best and you’d have to show it to both players, not just Feghouli. “He wants to be the star, too often… Like a petulant schoolteacher! Treat ‘em like men. Just tell them, lads, look, you both had a go at each other. Any more of this, I’m sending both of you off,” said Garth Crooks (BBC), weighing in on the matter.
Manchester United fans, however, won’t mind most of the decisions last night because it all went their way in the end. An early red to West Ham immediately left them at a disadvantage and they were trying to recover from it for the rest of the night. United didn’t make the most of it initially, but slowly got into their groove.
Prominently, though, Zlatan Ibrahimović’s 18th goal of the season came when three Manchester United players, including him, were offside but the linesman did not catch that. The replays did.
Three United players were clearly offside
We United fans see it as retribution for Zlatan’s disallowed goal against Middlesbrough a few days back, and there’s nobody who can convince us otherwise. One could also see it as retribution for all the other times this season when refereeing decisions haven’t gone our way when it was clear they should have. West Ham fans and United haters alike turned on Mike Dean’s via social media as soon as these decisions went United’s way. @bealymufc summed up our feelings about this when he tweeted: “We’ve been on the end of poor refereeing all season and not a word said. We finally get one our way and they say the Ref needs to go. Unreal bias.”
Either way, Zlatan’s goal stood.
Zlatan has already scored more than Martial did in all of last season and he was our leading goalscorer last season with 17 goals. And it’s only just January! Ibra has been directly involved in 52% of all of United’s goals this season. He made his 820th career league appearance last night and astonishingly, he has only missed 36 games through injury in 18 years of his football career. Just goes to show the kind of fitness ethic the man must have and that reassures us.
This is Mourinho’s Team Despite Tired Legs
Jose Mourinho’s imprint is showing on this team. Confidence is high, and United are now seeing out games without major hiccups. Individual players are consistently stepping up for the team, and as a result the team is playing well collectively. Not every player has a great game week in week out, but the team can have a great game when the other players are able to compensate for the player who is off-colour and not be reliant on him all the time. United are slowly but surely getting back to playing by this adage that Sir Alex Ferguson’s teams played by.
Darmian and Lingard did start last night, over Blind and Martial, respectively. Both looked shaky, didn’t contribute much and were ultimately taken off with Lingard attributed to what could be the miss of the season, but despite them having a bad day on the pitch, the rest of the team stepped up and tried their best to compensate. And this is even more commendable when one realises that 6 of these players started in United’s win over Middlesbrough only two days back.
David de Gea stepped up brilliantly on his 250th appearance for the club and made two astonishing saves from Manuel Lanzini’s powerful shots on goal. Both were made when the game was still level at 0-0. Rojo and Jones were robust in defence, and although they had their nervy moments, they ultimately managed to keep a clean sheet. United are now unbeaten in 9 league games when the defensive duo have played together, having won 6 of those 9.
Herrera remains a midfield engine, a dynamo, a robust all-round midfielder and arguably our most-improved player. He lends the perfect balance between the deep-lying, subtle prowess of Michael Carrick and the forward-thinking flair and unbridled skill of Paul Pogba. Herrera had a great game in midfield and the stats only prove that. Per Squawka, he is the only Premier League midfielder to have made more interceptions (50) than N’Golo Kante (49) this season. He made 5 interceptions last night, 2 more than any other player on the pitch, made an assist, created 2 chances, had 4 successful tackles and 91% pass accuracy from the 75 passes he made.
Speaking of Michael Carrick, United now have 13 wins out of 15 games played when Carrick is on the field, having scored 37 goals and conceded 10. Last night he completed 99 passes, 10 more than any other player on the pitch. Some of the passes Carrick made are the set-up for many chances that Manchester United created, most prominently the pass that let Rashford free in a 1v1 situation before Mata’s goal.
Finally it is Zlatan who is going stronger than ever, having netted his 18th goal across all competitions for United this season.
Mourinho is Still The Special One, and is Evolving
Jose Mourinho has managed the last few games exceedingly well and seems to be having an absolutely smashing time at United. He may not have started the season well but the recent dramatic improvement in United’s result has been underpinned by a change in Mourinho’s character and his outlook. He may have that arrogant streak that we are all familiar with but he seems to have become more prudent and measured while still maintaining his superiority. When asked after the match, “Do you feel massive momentum at the moment?” he was quick to reply with, “No I feel like we can win the next match. We look for a good game and goals.”
The Jose Mourinho I see is much more calm, composed, balanced, in the moment and understanding but still authoritative and clear about what he wants to do and where he wants to be. He is taking it one game at a time and there’s nothing wrong about that. Mourinho is now on a 7 game winning run in all competitions, which is his best since an equally long winning run with Real Madrid in 2013. He has also won 3 away games in a row for the first time with United and has taken United’s unbeaten run to 13 games across all competitions. United may still be in 6th position but have made up in points for that time upto December when we were dropping points right, left and centre. United also lead the chart in terms of form, having won 5 games in a row, same as Chelsea, but having scored one more goal than them (we’ve also conceded one more, though). The next destination is undoubtedly Top 4, although I see us making the cut into the Top 3 as well, come May.
Another facet Mourinho seems to have put his stamp on is his substitutions. He has made great tactical decision of late and his introduction of Juan Mata, Marcus Rashford and Chris ‘Mike’ Smalling last night proved no less. Mata got on the scoresheet and Rashford was up to his notorious best, running up and down the flank, deep into West Ham’s half and creating many chances, earning himself an assist, 96% pass accuracy, a 100% dribble completion rate and a Man of the Match Award. Opta tells me Juan Mata has bene involved in 40 Premier League goals since his debut for United, a stat bettered only by Wayne Rooney in the same time. He’s totally our Spanish Maestro.
On a night full of bubbles and fiery decisions, United triumphed with what could be called relative ease towards the end, but the match was brought to life by second half substitutions Juan Mata and Marcus Rashford. United are beginning to see some luck going their way after weeks upon weeks of unfavorable decisions and events. Credit where it’s due, though, because West Ham United played very well despite their numerical disadvantage and I know they are capable of much, much more than what they have been putting out on the field in recent matches and that they have the potential to be much higher in the league table with the squad they have.
With that said, I look forward with eagerness to United’s next Premier League matchup against rivals Liverpool on our home turf, before which of course, we have cup ties against clubs managed by former Reds: Jaap Stam’s Reading (FA Cup) and Mike Phelan’s Hull City (League Cup).
My name is Jai Vyas, and I thank you for being here. Until next time, GGMU.
-Written by Jai Vyas, also known as The United Writer (@united_writer on Twitter and @theunitedwriter on Instagram)
You can also find his work at The United Writer’s Blog – http://theunitedwriter.wordpress.com/