Manchester United have always had an eventful fixture at West Ham. The human wall Ludo Miklosko thwarted Alex Ferguson’s United on a title charge in 1992, whilst repeating the feat in 1995 for the away side to lose out to Leeds United and Blackburn Rovers respectively. Although not in the realms of “squeaky bum time”, Jose Mourinho took his United side, for the first time, to the Olympic Stadium in what was a dramatic and controversial victory.
Sofiane Feghouli was sent off inside fifteen minutes for a foul on Phil Jones, which meant that West Ham played out over three quarters of the match with ten men. Michail Antonio missed two chances to give the home side the lead, whilst Antonio Valencia and Jesse Lingard, in particular, were both guilty of missing glorious chances to give Mourinho’s men the lead. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who had scored 17 goals in 28 appearances prior to the match, netted United’s second whilst standing in an offside position.
United are now unbeaten in 13 fixtures (since losing 2-1 away at Fenerbahçe in the Europa League) and are starting to click under the guidance of Mourinho. Slaven Bilic will rightly be angry at the officiating of Mike Dean as the sending off ensured a change of game plan from the home side.
West Ham unfortunate with refereeing decisions
The sending off ultimately changed how the game would play out – with West Ham sitting deeper and making it difficult for United to create anything through the centre of the park. Feghouli picked up a knock down from Antonio, who took one touch forward before a much heavier touch gave Jones a chance to nick the ball away from the Algerian. United’s centre half got to the ball first, before Feghouli who slid in to try and win the ball back. It was a foul to United and at most a yellow card, however – Mike Dean opted to send the forward off.
Post match Bilic was fuming, stating that it was Phil Jones who should have received the red card and Dean’s decision was “totally unfair” and “totally wrong”:
“It was never a red card. The other way round was the more dangerous one. It was Jones – he got the ball but he went with the ‘scissors’. Feghouli very rarely makes a foul in the game and his foot was not high in the air.
Phil made a meal of it, maybe because he went in a dangerous manner and to save himself. For me that was the crucial decision in the game, it was early and it put the game in a totally different perspective. That decision and the other one were totally unfair to us and totally wrong.”
Both players were committed to win the ball with Feghouli late in on Jones, who won the ball first. A foul and a yellow card would have sufficed, however Dean thought otherwise.
Prior to the sending off, West Ham had looked lively – with Dimitri Payet finding some space in between United’s midfield and defence, which no doubt would have continued with eleven players on the pitch – unless Mourinho looked to a change. Bilic was forced to play a narrow 4-4-1, with the bright Antonio leading the line. It was the Englishman who had West Ham’s best chance in the second half, when Manuel Lanzini played through the forward with a defence splitting pass that had United all at sea.
Antonio fluffed his lines, perhaps with the missed header earlier in the second half still on his mind, and struck the ball straight at David De Gea – who as usual delivered when he was called upon. Three minutes later, United would double their lead through an excellent Juan Mata strike – however, it was the second goal twelve minutes from time that further fuelled the controversy.
Pedro Obiang picked up the ball following a shot by Ander Herrera, however the Spaniard was instantly closed down by his fellow countrymen – with the ball bouncing into the path of Ibrahimovic – who was standing in an offside position. The goal shouldn’t have stood. Many United fans were fuming with the decision on Saturday to disallow United’s number nine a first half strike against Middlesborough – which was controversially ruled out – and Mourinho had little sympathy for the home side, stating that his Manchester United are “the champions of bad decisions”:
“I don’t feel sorry for West Ham – I didn’t watch the decisions. I think if you talk about decisions, we are the champions of bad decisions.
I have had to educate myself in the first half of the season because of so many decisions – Zlatan’s disallowed goal, a clear penalty against Crystal Palace. It is great for the fans and the people at home, but it is hard for us, even for me.”
Jose Mourinho substitutions the difference
United fans will remember quite clearly the moment the 2013 Champions League last 16 tie turned on its head. United were at home to Real Madrid having drawn 1-1 away in The Bernabéu and had taken the lead through a Sergio Ramos own goal. United were in control and, then opposing manager, Mourinho was looking to bring on Karim Benzema to offer some much needed firepower as Madrid looked to get back into the game and then – disaster struck for the home side.
Nani was sent off for an aerial challenge on defender Alvaro Arbeloa – which was extremely harsh and had Sir Alex Ferguson nearly falling over at the decision. Whilst Ferguson was still in disarray at the decision by Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir, Mourinho reacted and changed his mind about Benzema, before introducing Luka Modric. It was Modric who changed the game – keeping the ball effortlessly in midfield before scoring a sublime equaliser. Former red Cristiano Ronaldo scored the winner, however – it was Mourinho’s decision making following a sending off that ensured Ferguson’s final Champions League game would end in defeat.
Fast forward nearly four years and it is the Portuguese who is in the United hot seat and this time around, using a controversial sending off to his advantage. Mourinho was unimpressed with United’s slow paced play in the first half and although the away side could have been one nil up if Valencia or Lingard had converted their individual chance – the United boss felt it necessary to make crucial changes at half time. Matteo Darmian was sacrificed for Juan Mata, with Michael Carrick slotting into centre half and Marcos Rojo moving to left back. It was a bold and necessary move that encouraged United to attack more so, whilst keeping the intelligent Carrick dictating from deep.
On 58 minutes, Mourinho brought on Marcus Rashford for the out of sorts Lingard, who made an immediate impact. Rashford was excellent for the time he was on the pitch and gave Nordtveit a torrid time on West Ham’s right hand side. The youngster constantly took on the fullback on the outside, before having the time to cut back in on his right foot having left the Norwegian chasing shadows. Rashford has done exceptionally well since the start of the season, considering he wasn’t a first team starter and has always looked dangerous when coming on as a substitute.
At first it appeared Mourinho grew tired of the suggestions that Rashford should be in the starting Xi, but as the season evolves – the Portuguese is definitely nurturing the talent of Rashford – introducing him at the right time to make an impact. With the impressive performance of Anthony Martial, an unused substitute this evening, on Saturday against Middlesborough – it would have been very easy to throw the Frenchman on instead of Rashford.
United’s number 19 combined with fellow substitute Mata for United’s opener, pulling the ball back for the Spaniard to neatly finish with a left footed strike. It allowed Mourinho to move Carrick back into the midfield to ensure United’s kept possession, whilst bringing on Chris Smalling for Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Ibrahimovic rounded off the win with a controversial winner, but Mourinho will be delighted with United’s form over the Christmas period – beating Sunderland, Middlesbrough and now West Ham to close the gap on the top four.
United now host in form Championship side Reading in the FA Cup on Saturday – looking to defend the trophy won in May.