Robbed of the services of a number of casualties of Wednesday night’s performance, United went into this game looking patched up but ended it comfortable winners. Perhaps one of the problems this season is that Moyes has too often been spoilt for choice in a way he’s not accustomed to. Here, necessity proved the mother of invention and United had a shape, control and tactical awareness about them that was deeply reassuring.
Robin van Persie was ruled out for up to six weeks and may even miss the World Cup with a strained knee, the Netherlands are currently 33/1 to win the worlds biggest football competition through various World Cup free bets.
United were out of the blocked quickly and, in the early minutes, Fellaini threatened to do what we hope he’ll begin to do more often, when he produced a text book header from Young’s cross that was kept out of the net only by Carroll’s leg. It wasn’t long until United did take the lead, however, if in rather different circumstances. With David Beckham in the ground, Rooney, seeing Adrian off his line, decided to repeat Beckham’s famous goal against Wimbledon and did so brilliantly, lobbing the keeper from just inside the West Ham half: the ball took one bounce before hitting the roof of the net. If there are likely be be few moments in 2013-14 worth seeing again for United fans, this manouevre – which Rooney has been attempting to pull off all season – will no doubt get a few repeat airings.
West Ham were allowing us the kind of spaces in midfield we’ve been presenting to opponents this season and Mata, enjoying himself in a central role in Van Persie’s absence, was seeking to make the most of them. He put in Kagawa for a shot that he hit straight at Adrian and found himself in space when Rooney picked him out with a pull back, again only to find the West Ham keeper in the way. On several occasions United threatened to pick the home side off on the break and they did so in the wake of West Ham being denied an ambitious, to say the least, call for a penalty. From the clearance that followed, Young was fed by Rooney and his cross repaid the favour, albeit via the charitable agency of Noble, whose crude attempt to clear fell at the feet of the forward, who didn’t pass up the invitation to grab his second.
Although West Ham had enjoyed a share of the possession in the first half, they looked largely one-dimensional in their approach, apparently seduced by the idea that Carrick as a makeshift central defender might afford them opportunities they didn’t need to work for, and still working on the ancient idea that the mere sight of Carroll would have De Gea presenting the ball to them on a plate. It was to be assumed that they would change their approach in the second half and they did: their game got even uglier, if tighter in the middle of the park and they proceeded to maximise the aerial threat of the former Liverpool man with even greater relish.
It didn’t work. United gradually gained control of the second half and, although there were to be no more goals, the Reds always looked the more likely team to produce them. Carrick was cultured in his defensive role, though the crude long ball tactics of the opposition hardly required it. Fellaini and Fletcher provided an unfamiliar toughness in midfield, the former coming back repeatedly to deal with the alehouse balls that repeatedly found nobody in a West Ham shirt. Tactically, this time we got it right and the three points were heading to Old Trafford long before the referee blew for full-time.