Written by Rhys Paul.
Perhaps this article is better titled the ‘Mike Dean Show’ as that is what this match will forever be remembered as. Man United recorded a 2-0 win at the London Stadium, but the scoreline does not tell the whole story of a contest that was plagued by controversy throughout. In truth, the game was ruined with only 15 minutes on the clock. Sofiane Feghouli’s attempt to win back a loose ball saw the Algerian clash with Phil Jones. It was physical and competitive, but it was nothing more than a 50-50. Nobody in the stadium thought anything of it until Jones’ made a meal of it, leading Dean to re-think after initially allowing play to continue by brandishing the red card. Remarkably, it looked like Jones was more of the aggressor than Feghouli. The decision led to confusion and it set the tone of Dean’s refereeing performance: egotistical, incompetent and inconsistent. The hosts had been in the ascendancy up until that point and, despite continuing to perform admirably against twelve men, the momentum was gradually lost from that moment.
Up until Juan Mata’s (63′) opener, the visitors had done little to excite the travelling supporters. Antonio Valencia was unlucky not to open the scoring in the first half and Darren Randolph once again produced some top quality saves to deny the opposition. Defensively, the Hammers should have done better to contain substitute, Marcus Rashford on the right flank. Whereas the first goal was frustrating for that reason, the second from Zlatan Ibrahimovic (78′) was controversial. With three players offside – including the Swede – the game was put to bed with just over ten minutes left to play. David De Gea also did his bit in helping United take all the points against ten men. It was unfair on West Ham, but too many times this season have referees been the deciding factors, more often than not incorrectly too.
Overall a good performance from the home side and it is unfair that they do not have anything to show for it. Nevertheless, you cannot blame anybody on West Ham’s side for the defeat with so many factors against them on the day. The game was put beyond their reach, but, if that level of performance can be maintained, then the Hammers are capable of enjoying a much more comfortable second half to the season.
Darren Randolph – 7.5
Another top performance from the Irishman. Aided by the post, his save in the first half gave fans something to cheer about after Dean’s best attempts to deprive fans of just that. Several good saves justified his position as first choice between the sticks. He also had to deal with a number of poor back-passes, but his decision-making and discipline ensured nothing came of them.
Havard Nordtveit – 5
Nordtveit might not be terrible, but he should not be starting. His positioning is awful – although that is partially down to the fact he is playing out of position – and he was once again exposed as the weak link down the right. He hasn’t learnt from the Spurs game and his insistence on going to ground rarely pays off. Rashford punished his hesitancy with the youngster ultimately going on to set up the opener. Passing is not up to scratch – as evidenced by a poor back-pass in the second-half – and his overall play descends into laziness.
Winston Reid – 7.5
Captain in Mark Noble’s absence, Reid superbly led the defensive line in a largely composed showing. He enjoyed the battle with Ibrahimovic and, unlike Nordtveit, his decision to go to ground more often than not is correct. He won the majority of his tackles and he acts like a leader in every sense of the word. Certainly the front-runner for ‘Hammer of the Year’ at the halfway point.
Angelo Ogbonna – 7
Much better from Ogbonna in recent weeks and Reid deserves a lot of credit in guiding the usually undisciplined Italian to a focused performance. He did well against Ibrahimovic despite my own reservations, so credit where it’s due. His distribution remains poor, but there is only so much you can expect from a centre-back, I suppose. Definitely looks more at home in a back-four.
Aaron Cresswell – 6
Has Cresswell fully recovered from his pre-season injury? He seems a lot more susceptible to knocks this season and he struggled against Valencia. The Ecuadorian won the battle against the former Ipswich man in both attack and defence. His overlapping was ineffective and he once again struggled to link-up with Payet. It speaks volumes that it took nearly 80 minutes for him to deliver a decent cross.
Pedro Obiang – 7
It is amazing what a difference his presence in the midfield makes. Easily the most complete footballer at the club, his reading of the game is second to none. He did not look out of place against Paul Pogba in the middle of the park and his breaking up and distribution of the ball played a significant role in the energy the team played with in the first half. He was unusually reckless when he dived in to prevent Rashford and his ricocheted clearance later in the game subsequently led to United’s second.
Cheikhou Kouyate – 7
The midfield looked better than it has done all season and much of that was down to Kouyate’s return to his more familiar role up the field. His drives up the field have been missed and it provides his teammates with a forward-thinking individual that they have lacked when Noble has been on the pitch this season. It’s a shame the team will be without him for a few weeks come the African Cup of Nations.
Manuel Lanzini – 7.5 (Man-of-the-Match)
One of the more dangerous attacking outlets on the pitch against United. Had it not been for De Gea, Lanzini might have been celebrating a brace before half-time after seeing one effort pushed round the post and another tipped over. Looked lively until the end and opened up the opposition’s defence frequently, notably with a defence-splitting through ball to Antonio in the second-half.
Sofiane Feghouli – 6.5
Arguably one of the best players on the pitch before his diabolical dismissal. On his first start for the club, he fought for everything and showed flashes of the talent that made his name at Valencia and that which got fans excited during pre-season. No longer looks like just a pace merchant, it’s just a shame Dean cut his night disgracefully short.
Michail Antonio – 6.5
Antonio is clearly not a striker. Oh, how different the result could have been had a natural striker been in one-on-one with De Gea with the score at 0-0. His turn of pace and strength gave the United defence a few problems, but it ultimately led to nothing. There was promise in his link-up with Carroll once the big man came on, but Antonio’s growing fatigue meant the effectiveness of such a pairing was always going to be limited.
Dimitri Payet – 6
Another indifferent showing and another early night for the Frenchman. A few bright moments, but nothing that got fans out of their seats. A few early chances should have been taken better given the quality of the player. Another individual who was unfairly punished by the referee. It was largely forgettable night for Payet, but he needs to be utilised better by both his teammates and Slaven Bilic.
Andy Carroll (69′ for Payet) – 6.5
The team looked much more dangerous with Carroll leading the line. He caused chaos in the opposition’s box and his knock-downs could be devastating if paired with the likes of Antonio, Lanzini and Ayew. Ibrahimovic’s goal killed off any chance the hosts had and that meant Carroll’s impact as the Hammers’ saving grace was lost minutes after his introduction.
Edimilson Fernandes (82′ for Kouyate) – 6
Replaced a tiring Kouyate, so his introduction did at least inject some energy into the midfield in the closing stages. Probably would have been introduced earlier if Bilic didn’t believe the team were going to get back into it.
Andre Ayew (88′ for Lanzini) – N/A
He’s got a bit of stick from fans, but he should have been introduced much earlier. There’s no denying his quality and the energy he brings could have caused United some problems.
Do you agree with the ratings? Who was your man of the match? Let us know in the comments below!