Jarrod Bowen celebrates his opener and 11th Premier League goal of the season
By the full-time whistle, there was barely a soul left in the lower portion of the away end; a feeling all too familiar for fans of the once-mighty Manchester United, following an astonishing 13th defeat of the season. That, would you believe, is more than the entirety of last season already. But Erik ten Hag’s pain – and, blimey, has he felt some pain in the last four months – was David Moyes’s gain two days before Christmas Day as West Ham moved into the top six after a two-goal victory against a Man Utd side seemingly forever descending into a cesspit of doom this season.
Ten Hag’s side can simply have no complaints. None at all. The visitors were the fresher side on paper after a week off but were uninspiring and ineffective throughout. A point to prove? Some desire and determination? Apparently not.
Meek and fruitless on the ball, apathetic and half-hearted off it, it is now one win from seven in all competitions. The last four have produced a grand total of zero goals and when they welcome Aston Villa to Old Trafford on Boxing Day, they will be a bleak eighth in the table.
As for West Ham, they sent their fans home joyous for the festive season. For 72 minutes, this was a game of nothingness and, in both camps, it looked somewhat stark. But in what was essentially the first real moment of quality, West Ham’s man-of-the-moment Jarrod Bowen exchanged a sublime one-two with Lucas Paqueta before a fortuitous rebound off Andre Onana sent the ball into the net.
Mohammed Kudus sealed the points not long after, following Man Utd teenager Kobbie Mainoo’s error in midfield, and with that, it sent West Ham leapfrogging their opponents up into the European places once again.
The 55,000-strong home support certainly trudged down to Stratford station happier than they started. And much happier than halfway through this contest, for sure. Because this was a drab Saturday lunchtime start to a football match if ever there was one. It could be forgiven on one side, with the Hammers in action in midweek, but Man Utd’s slow-moving design of play after six days off left plenty to be desired. And plenty for Ten Hag to ponder on the journey back up to the north-west.
A careless pass straight out of play from an unpressurised Jonny Evans in the first five minutes set the tone for an excruciatingly laborious pattern to emerge: Man United, with the majority of the ball, refusing to crank it up beyond first gear with West Ham more than content to stay rigid in their shape after their Carabao Cup pummelling at Anfield on Wednesday.
Ten Hag handed a debut to 19-year-old Frenchman Willy Kambwala and his partnership with Jonny Evans, 16 years his senior, was Man United’s 10th different centre-back combination of the season. Yet West Ham barely tested the new duo early on, with the groans and moans from the terraces towards the interval very much telling its own story. Needless to say, when West Ham’s attacking quartet showed more impetus in the second half, Man Utd quickly crumbled.
The Red Devils fashioned the clearest chance of the first half, however. Kudus, fresh off a brace against Wolves a week ago, gifted the ball to Antony and the Brazilian – who has now gone 19 games this season without a goal or assist – slid in Alejandro Garnarcho through on goal. The Argentine only scores exquisite bicycle kicks, it seems, and tamely shot at Alphonse Areola, who saved comfortably with his feet.
Areola almost made a meal of Mainoo’s long-range effort late in the half but when the half-time whistle blew, it concluded 45 minutes nobody will remember in a hurry.
After the interval, the speed of play quickened – but not by much. Bowen tested Andre Onana with a firm header from James Ward-Prowse’s corner, while Rasmus Hojlund came trudging off for Marcus Rashford on the hour mark. The £72m Danish striker is now 50-odd minutes away from 1,000 Premier League minutes without a goal. If there is any statistic to illustrate Ten Hag’s attacking woes, that is it.
Boy, did this game need a spark – and finally it got it with 20 minutes to go. Bowen exchanged the cleanest of one-twos with Paqueta, earnt his luck up against Onana with a ricochet into the net, and the Hammers were well on their way. It is an 11th Premier League goal of the season for the irrepressible England international, who is fast becoming one of the league’s standout players.
Five minutes later, Man Utd’s impressive-thus-far midfielder Mainoo inexplicably let the ball run under his foot in the centre of the park. Pacqueta fed Kudus in on goal, and the Ghanaian finished brilliantly with his right foot into the bottom corner beyond Onana.
A face of thunder was writ large on Ten Hag on the touchline; a face we have become all too accustomed to seeing. The scale of the issues with his beleaguered United side only increases. At the full-time whistle, Rashford – the great homegrown talent, what on earth has happened to him? – was notable for being the the first player down the tunnel, failing to join his teammates in applauding those fans that remained loyal to the end.
Put bluntly, you do not do that. It is an image which, more so than any failings of skill or tactics, presents the ultimate microcosm of the lack of application and professionalism on show at Man Utd at this point. And that’s before we even get to the one-star food hygiene rating at Old Trafford.