Substitute Scott McTominay scored in extra-time to take Manchester United into the next round of the FA Cup after an incredible damp squib of a game with West Ham.
With both teams in relatively good form (results-wise, at least), better would have been expected than the poor first half showing; United came the closest a couple of times, first through Martial whose angled shot was saved, and then through Lindelof, whose deflected header was well saved by Fabianski.
West Ham, though never particularly good themselves, grew in confidence as the half wore on and enjoyed a little more possession.
Visiting manager David Moyes was forced to make a number of changes to his team and altered his formation; and though his team started the second half promisingly, United had the first big chance, when Rashford’s good opening was stopped by Fabianski.
It is beginning to feel very familiar to United fans who have seen these passages of complacency and passiveness that seem to come whenever it is evident that certain hopes are fading. The difference in urgency and intent since the Sheffield United defeat has been tangible, with players seemingly feeling sorry for themselves.
Solskjaer’s biggest headache from now until the end of the season is to remind the players that the standard set in the month before that defeat is one expected of the club all of the time. It’s the only way to raise standards on a consistent basis, and the frustrating thing is to know the players are capable of it only to see them regress to this sort of flat and slow attitude.
Sure, the manager can pay an ultimate price, but there were too many players going through the motions. They’ve done it so often throughout their Old Trafford careers and these red flags will surely be noticed by Solskjaer.
As usual when that’s the case, the errors started creeping in; Lindelof casually gave the ball away and was lucky that the visitors were wasteful when they had a promising 3 on 2 opening. Shortly after, Wan-Bissaka sliced a clearance high up in the air and Henderson had to be alert to stop it dropping into his own net.
Solskjaer’s response was to bring on McTominay and Fernandes for Matic and the hugely disappointing Van De Beek. The Dutch player is desperately low on confidence and did not seem to know where he was supposed to fit. Cavani was then brought on for Greenwood, the youngster paying the price when Martial or Rashford could easily have been hooked instead.
But Fernandes is only a man and can’t change the tide; the only danger of a goal before the end of normal time was a late corner from West Ham.
United went into extra-time changing the full-backs; it was this move that aided the breakthrough. Shaw won a good challenge on the edge of his own box. United swiftly countered, Rashford teed the ball up and Scott McTominay toe-ended it in from ten yards.
It was enough to ensure qualification into the next round, but enough to convince that things are turning around?
Another Cup game, another chance for heavy rotation – before the game Solskjaer spoke of how winning the FA Cup isn’t the ‘be all and end all’ and how the league is the bread and butter.
Clinically speaking, this is the objective on which managers before him were judged, so he was right; speaking from a team-sheet perspective, Henderson, Telles and Van De Beek were all given starts, which is what many have wanted to see in order to get them game time. By the same token, another start for Wan-Bissaka, Maguire and Rashford shows how short the squad is in certain areas.
Solskjaer timed his changes sensibly, keeping it for as long as he could without it being too late to bring Fernandes in to the game.
Van De Beek 4
— D.L (@dailyLD1) February 9, 2021