Manchester United began 2017 just as they ended 2016, as they continued their winning streak to beat 10-man West Ham United 2-0 at the London Stadium
Manchester United extended their winning streak to seven on Monday night, as goals from Juan Mata and Zlatan Ibrahimovic ensured that they closed the gap on the likes of Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur in the bid to land into the top 4.
The match was riddled with controversies and the referee Mike Dean along with his assistants were the hot topic, among others in an otherwise scrappy game which had chances coming few and far between, despite Manchester United having the advantage in numbers.
The Hard Tackle discusses a few talking points to emerge from what was a controversial Manchester United win.
Refereeing blunders mar a Premier League encounter yet again
Manchester United fans would have you know that they have been on the receiving end of controversial refereeing decisions which have cost them several points over the course of this season. Jose Mourinho iterated the same in his post match comments, saying he has had to “cope” with many wrong decisions.
This time around though, it was Manchester United that benefited from a contentious decision going in their favour, and it happened more than once. The first was right at the beginning of the match, as Sofiane Feghouli was harshly sent off for a foul on Phil Jones in the 14th minute.
That was the 5th red card he has issued this season, which unsurprisingly is more than any other official has in the Premier League.
— Sky Sports News HQ (@SkySportsNewsHQ) January 2, 2017
The second instance was when Zlatan Ibrahimovic slotted home United’s second goal of the match, which effectively put the game to bed. However, the Swede was clearly offside as he got the ball at his feet and hit a thumping strike past Darren Randolph.
While there were some other debatable decisions over the course of the match too, the real point of concern is the alarmingly falling standards of refereeing in England, which has seen many fans and managers being disgruntled at the decisions going against their team.
Is it time for video referees to be implemented in the game for good? Recent decisions doled out by the referees would definitely point towards an affirmative.
Juan Mata and Marcus Rashford the super subs for Mourinho
The first half saw Manchester United struggle to create clear goalscoring opportunities despite West Ham being a man down on them. In fact, the hosts created the better of the chances in the first period, as David De Gea was tested on two occasions.
At the break, Mourinho brought Juan Mata into the match at the expense of Matteo Darmian, to introduce a burst of creativity into the match. Shortly after, highly rated youngster Marcus Rashford was brought on as well, as the replacement for the underwhelming Jesse Lingard.
— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) January 2, 2017
Surely enough they brought about a refreshing element of pace and cutting edge into the encounter, and it was Rashford who gave the West Ham right back Havard Nordtveit a tough since coming on, and rounded him off before laying in an inviting ball for Mata to score United’s first goal from.
That killed any chances that West Ham had of getting anything from the match, as the ten men were absolutely drained from being behind the ball for the majority of the match, thus vindicating Mourinho’s decision to go all out in search of the elusive goal right from the off post the break.
Manchester United’s Top 4 Charge: Are They Back In Contention?
The win over West Ham was also decisive in one more way. Manchester United have now won six games in a row in the Premier League, and have not lost once since the start of November. This has seen them bridge the gap on their Top 4 rivals, slowly but steadily.
Manchester United’s last 7 games across all competitions:
Jose’s side keep on winning. pic.twitter.com/EousCUYuN1
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) January 2, 2017
They are now level on points with fifth-placed Tottenham Hotspur and one behind Arsenal, although the two clubs have played a game less. Liverpool’s draw against Sunderland last night meant that they’re only five ahead of Manchester United.
With Manchester United hosting Jurgen Klopp’s side at Old Trafford in twelve days time, United could further close down the gap on the Reds with a win, and possibly even some other clubs, should they drop points along the way. Certainly a sign of positive things to come.
David De Gea Makes Himself Count
It was a night when David De Gea wasn’t called to action frequently, with United dominating the bulk of the possession. However, there were three different moments when Mourinho needed his custodian to be as solid as he’s ever been.
Surely enough, De Gea, who was playing his 250th match in a United jersey, made himself count in each moment. The first came in the opening stages of the match as Manuel Lanzini and Dimitri Payet exchanged a one-two pass before the former tested De Gea’s mettle.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) January 2, 2017
As the first half neared its end, De Gea was needed once again as he once again denied Lanzini by parrying his long range effort with ease.
However, he saved the best for last as he brilliantly blocked Michail Antonio in a one-on-one situation in the 60th minute that showcased his superb positioning skills, This was right before Mata slotted the ball in for United’s opener, and surely enough De Gea’s game changing effort made all the difference.
Positives For West Ham In A Dogged Defeat
Defeat was a bitter pill to swallow for Slaven Bilic and West Ham, but surely enough the hosts gave a good account of themselves. They started the match on the front foot and forced a superb save out of David De Gea, as Manuel Lanzini and Dimitri Payet combined beautifully from the off.
And even though the red card issued to Sofiane Feghouli put them at a numerical disadvantage, the Hammers were the brighter of the two sides and created better clear cut opportunities, in particular Lanzini’s effort from outside the box and Antonio’s one-on-one effort against De Gea.
West Ham’s resilience behind the ball was another positive for Bilic, who saw his ten men maintain discipline throughout the first hour to frustrate Zlatan Ibrahimovic and co., denying them much sniff at their goal.
Their resistance was finally broken by the combined brilliance of Mata and Rashford, but Bilic can certainly derive a few postives from a defeat, and one would think that the only way is up for West Ham United.