West Ham United 2-2 Manchester United
West Ham XI: Jaaskelainen, Demel, Collins, Tomkins, Potts, Diarra, Nolan, Collison, Joe Cole, Vaz Te, Carlton Cole.
Man Utd XI (w/ratings): De Gea 6, Smalling 5, Evans 6, Vidic 5, Buttner 5, Rafael 6, Scholes 6, Cleverley 6, Kagawa 5, Welbeck 6, Hernandez 6. Subs: Valencia 5, Van Persie 8, Giggs 7.
The magic of the FA cup on this occasion was provided by the right foot of Manchester United’s Dutch talisman Robin van Persie whose fabulous touch, control and shot in the dying embers of the game took the tie to a replay at Old Trafford.
Manchester United set up the game with 4 in defence, 4 in midfield and 2 forwards. The game started with total Manchester United dominance. The midfield 4, playing in a diamond, called the shots in possession from the offing. Paul Scholes was given the time and space to dictate the play from deep. Rafael, Cleverley and Kagawa interchanged nicely.
Despite the dominance, United were given a scare early on when Paul Scholes and Nemanja Vidic had to both clear the ball from the line. This was essentially a sign of things to come as we continued to struggle from aerial situations and set pieces throughout the game. Regardless, it was Man Utd who had the better of the early chances; the first coming from some wonderful interplay resulting in a first time ball across the face of the defence which also evaded oncoming striker Javier Hernandez. However, the second of such chances we took when some lovely play by Rafael and Hernandez set up Tom Cleverley to tuck the ball away.
Man Utd were then made to pay from a set piece situation when the ball fell to Joe Cole outside the area who crossed it in for James Collins to score West Ham’s opener. Goalkeeper David De Gea had no chance of stopping it. In the second half a similar such situation resulted in another assist for Joe Cole and another goal by James Collins; this time the ball being further away from David De Gea’s reach making any chance of saving it almost impossible.
Now, chasing the game, Man Utd were failing to exert the same dominance they had earlier on. West Ham were out to preserve their lead and solidified in defensive positions. In that period of the game two good chances were created to attempt to level the match up, first a header over by Antonio Valencia from an Alex Buttner cross and the other a header over by Ryan Giggs who couldn’t finish off a Rafael cross. Seemingly it felt like the goal wasn’t going to come but eventually it did when Ryan Giggs passed the ball long into Robin van Persie’s path on the bounce who duly obliged with a magnificent first touch, control and finish to equalise.
Early on in the game most played well. The football played in the first 25 minutes was some of the most impressive so far this season. We had the majority of possession and some of the interchanging and fluid passing was a joy to watch. Paul Scholes controlled the game from deep. Rafael played fairly well at the right of the two central midfielders. His enthusiasm and energy masked the fact for the most part that he was being played out of position. He was eventually moved to his favoured right back position when Chris Smalling, who was admittedly disappointing on the day, was substituted and set up a great chance which was spurned by Ryan Giggs.
The other central midfielder Tom Cleverley was relatively good. He took his goal well and was tidy in possession for most of the day. Shinji Kagawa, on the other hand, was quite disappointing. When Man Utd were on top he was heavily involved in the game but he was slowly phased out of the game as Man Utd’s dominance over the game waned. Towards the end his touch became heavy and it became apparent that he is not yet up to full speed after only recently returning from injury. Personally I am still intrigued to see the impact Shinji Kagawa can have. He was a vital cog in Borussia Dortmund’s title winning campaign last season but has yet not played enough to make a telling impact on our season so far.
When our other major summer signing Robin van Persie came on I suspected that he’d have some kind of say in the result of the game. Mostly he was quiet but when the opportunity came to him he took it marvellously. Van Persie really has been the difference this season. We’re only in January and he’s already up to 20 goals and 6 assists in 26 appearances. We can safely add this to the list of many games so far that he’s had a direct impact on.
The two forwards who started the game, Welbeck and Hernandez, did pretty well. Both linked up well with the midfield yet no clear chances fell to either throughout the game. Javier Hernandez did provide a fantastic assist for Tom Cleverley for Man Utd’s opener though. Substitute Antonio Valencia did not play particularly well after coming on and had barely any impact on the game. His continued poor form has become concerning. Ryan Giggs’ upturn in form is however very encouraging, after some fans had recently began to question his contributions to the club.
In terms of our defence, West Ham’s two goals came from crossers who were not suitably closed down and headerers who were not suitably marked. Apart from that I don’t believe West Ham had particularly had any good chances to score from. Putting that aside, Alex Buttner continued to show why I have a lack of confidence in his defending. On the other side of the pitch Chris Smalling didn’t offer too much in terms of attacking play. A lack of width meant there was an onus on Chris Smalling to play the role of a wing back but that didn’t really happen. Jonny Evans continued to be pretty solid in defence but I felt Nemanja Vidic had a few shaky moments in the game. Carlton Cole’s physical presence and nuisance did prove to be a test for Nemanja Vidic. Having said that, we also saw glimpses of the Nemanja Vidic we knew before injury when he was the first to get to the ball and head it off the line early on.
I was pretty ecstatic when Robin van Persie equalised to take the game to a replay. I wasn’t comfortable with entertaining the thought of a 3rd round exit or even another FA cup disappointment. It’s been many years since we last won the competition, too long, and so I’d like to see us make a good go at it this time round. For me the FA cup is still a great competition and being the most successful team in the competition demands us to do so. As Sir Alex Ferguson has said on multiple occasions, Rio Ferdinand is still yet to win the FA cup. What greater incentive do we need?!