United stage yet another comeback to fuel hot away win streak
With the final whistle drawing the game to a close, United officially recorded their ninth successive away win in the Premier League, and the fifth of this season. How bizarre it seems therefore that no one dares speak of optimism for this season, and any hopes of a title challenge are kept quietly hushed to the closest of friends?
If you are someone who prefers to draw their analysis from stats (goals, assists, xG, etc.), then this conundrum may continue to baffle you. If instead you were unfortunate enough to have to watch the first 45 minutes against West Ham, then you will know that the strong second-half comeback will not paper over all the cracks in this Manchester United team.
As kick-off approached there was cautious optimism about a fresh lineup that saw starts for Scott McTominay, Paul Pogba and Mason Greenwood, while Bruno Fernandes was given a chance to rest on the bench in anticipation of United’s huge clash in Leipzig on Tuesday.
Upon kick-off however, this optimism was dashed as 2,000 West Ham fans were welcomed back to the London Stadium with a scintillating 45 minute display. The earliest chance came to Jarrod Bowen, who raced through on goal and finished well past Dean Henderson (on his first Premier League start for United), only to see the offside flag correctly raised.
This early vulnerability set the tone for United’s defence, and the Hammers were given countless opportunities to run at the shaky legs of Victor Lindelöf and Harry Maguire as the minutes wore on.
United had both Henderson and the goalposts to thank for repelling multiple efforts before the breakthrough finally arrived, courtesy of a West Ham corner. Declan Rice rose highest to nod the ball on towards the back post, where Tomáš Souček had ghosted in past Alex Telles to tap into an empty net.
Soon after it very almost became a two-goal lead. Sébastien Haller was released through on goal with acres of space, only to overthink his effort and end up tripping over his own feet instead of getting any kind of shot away.
Despite Anthony Martial forcing a Łukasz Fabiański fingertip save in the dying minutes, United had to count themselves lucky to only go down the tunnel with a one-goal deficit.
Half-time: West Ham 1 – 0 Manchester United
Stepping out for the second half, United’s performance could only possibly get better. In Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford however, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is blessed to have two of the most impactful catalysts for improvement in the league.
As his team clawed their way back into the game, Solskjaer was soon to count his second blessing when Henderson’s clearance faded back in from the touchline and eventually found itself laid off to Pogba, who gave a reminder of his quality with an expert finish from distance. VAR attempted to check whether the ball had in fact left play, but with no camera angle available to give definitive proof, the goal stood.
As quickly as United had one, they had two. Pouring salt into the wound of Haller’s miss earlier in the game, Greenwood perfectly capitalised on Telles’ cross to bring it down with one touch and fire home with another.
There was no let up for the hosts, and five minutes later Rashford steamed through on goal only to be denied by the woodwork. Six further minutes however, and nothing was to deny him this time from giving the visitors a third.
So it was that United were saved by their substitutes, with all three (Fernandes, Rashford and Juan Mata) directly involving themselves in goals to overwhelm the Hammers and salvage three points from the most dismal of beginnings.
Two Premier League comebacks in two weeks for United, and without doubt fans have been treated to exciting football as the Reds have risen through the table.
Yet on Tuesday in Leipzig, under the pressure of the most important game of the season, United cannot afford to hand the initiative over to a team that has just scored three goals against a generational Bayern Munich side. A team that know they have to win to secure their own fate in the Champions League. A team that will not pass up chances in the first half, before rolling over in the second.
Three points on the road once again, but signs of worry as the Reds go marching on.
Full time: West Ham 1 – 3 Manchester United
Man of the Match: Marcus Rashford