Manchester United 1-0 West Ham – Tactical Analysis

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West Ham United have had an extraordinary season thus far. However, against second-place Manchester United, they failed to play with any conviction, almost as though they didn’t believe in themselves to win the match. It was a confusing performance from the Hammers, who have achieved positive results against the likes of Leicester, Spurs, and even Manchester City this season. Here is Amelia-Toni Adejobi‘s Tactical Analysis of United’s 1-0 win over the Hammers.

On Sunday March, 14 2021, Manchester United hosted West Ham United in a Premier League match at Old Trafford. The two teams have interwoven history, such as David Moyes’ short managerial stint at Manchester United, and players like Carlos Tevez and more recently, Jesse Lingard connecting the two teams. The visitors performed underwhelmingly, and the Red Devils took advantage of this by playing an attacking, possession-based game using Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s typical 4-2-3-1 formation. David Moyes, on the other hand, used a formation set to frustrate the hosts by sitting deep in a 3-1-4-2 tactical formation. They made no real attempt to move forward, and at many points in the match, midfield lay barren as everyone was in front of West Ham’s goal — well except for Manchester United’s defenders that is.

To say West Ham lacked ambition in the first half would be an understatement. The hosts weren’t that spectacular either, what with their sleepwalking style of play. A profanity-filled wake-up call from captain, Harry Maguire to rouse the team and stop them giving the ball away to the opposition was apparently what was needed. 

MANCHESTER UNITED SET PIECES

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The hosts played a highly tactical game in the build to their attempts to score — with 15 shots and 4 out of those on target. A sequential arrangement of long and short passes from defenders up to forwards made for very good watching, as they really seemed to know what they were doing. Many times during the match, Manchester United players, especially Shaw, Greenwood, Rashford, Fernandes and Fred, would carry the ball from Henderson in goal all the way to Fabianski’s doorstep without much opposition from West Ham, who were playing too safe. Once there, however, West Ham defenders like Issa Diop and Dawson would cover Manchester United forwards Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood, and the occasional Daniel James, making them flustered and leading them to fumble the attempt, or to give the ball away while trying to get through. Even Rice, Souček and Coufal fell back to assist.

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Sometimes they made it through, like in the 37th minute, when they broke from deep and Fred found Fernandes before passing to Greenwood. The youngster made an effort, but it was from a way out and was not delivered with enough energy, so the opposing keeper was able to scrape his fingertips off it and push it wide. Marcus Rashford also took a shot at goal, after a pass from Greenwood, but he was unable to convert it.

Though Manchester United had great tactical strength in the build up to score, when they actually got into the box, they were unable to convert. They were good, but missing a certain tactical creativity. This lack of creativity and silly technical mistakes from the players was ultimately their downfall, making their attempts to score, missed opportunities.

As usual though, their counter-attack game was strong, and the minute the Hammers gave the ball away or failed to convert, McTominay, Greenwood, and Rashford were sprinting down the pitch in the other direction.

WEST HAM’S MOVEMENT

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Considering their main tactic was to protect the goal, there wasn’t much movement from the Hammers. Every time they would move to make attempts to score, they would use the left flank. Always through there, and always stopped through there as well. They might have tried crossing to the right flank, since Harry Maguire in the heart of United’s defence made it impossible to go down the middle. Their continuous trial down the left flank was a tactical flaw that could have been reconsidered and may even have switched the game around. They were so focused on their defensive tactics, that it was as if they had not prepared for what to do when they won the ball. They moved like a compact group instead of different parts of a whole body. Most times, Manchester United players passed the ball back and forth to try and draw them out in a bid to open up the defense, but the visitors would be reluctant and stay put. If Manchester United started a counter-attack, all West Ham players would fly back to defend. This highly defensive tactic stopped Manchester United from scoring goals, but it may also have caused their downfall, as Dawson headed an own goal in from a corner taken by Bruno Fernandes.

The few players who actually moved around included Rice, Souček, Lanzini and Benrahma – the last two coming on in a double substitution. But the team took an overly cautious defensive approach throughout the match – even thirty minutes into the game abandoning their counter-attack and hiding in a defensive shell instead. Moyes’ 3-1-4-2 formation on paper began to look like a 5-3-2 or 5-4-1, with Bowen dropping in. While this style of play served to curb some attempts by the hosts, it was actually unbecoming of a team in the Premier League’s top five. They played like they were unsure of themselves, and like they did not think they truly deserved to be there. They had no effort, no ambition, and ‘parked the bus’ too early. Compared to spritely Greenwood, Rashford, and Fernandes, they looked quite dull and lifeless. Only defensive mistakes made by Manchester United made it look like they actually had a chance to score. 

West Ham under David Moyes this season are a far cry from the side that Manchester United have regularly overlooked and considered as lesser opponents in the past. Only Manchester City had boasted more Premier League wins in 2021 than West Ham’s eight out of eleven heading into the match against United. 

DEFENSIVE TACTICS

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Manchester United’s defense looked particularly strong on occasion, having four consecutive clean sheets for the first time under Solskjaer. One of those clean sheets includes the match against leaders Manchester City, so that tells all that is needed to know about their defensive strength. Captain Harry Maguire is to thank for that, as he not only blocks passes and shots, but spurs others like Victor Lindelof to do the same. Wan-Bissaka and James also did well as they advanced forward to aid in their team’s attack, while maintaining the youthful energy to sprint back, defend and help their team reclaim possession. 

West Ham understandably chose strong defensive tactics against their second-placed hosts, but there were more opportunities for them to move tactically and put pressure on Manchester United, instead of pure defense to frustrate the opponents, a tactic highly reminiscent of Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United when they would ‘park the bus’ in front of their goal

CONCLUSION

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You can’t help but wonder how different the game would have been if Manchester United’s loan player, Jesse Lingard was able to play in the game. There would probably have been more pressure placed on the hosts, and maybe even a goal for the visitors. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s tactics seem to be working very well for him. Manchester United put in a lot of effort and deserved to lead at the break, but an awful miss by Marcus Rashford and a brilliant save by West Ham’s Fabianski on Mason Greenwood’s attempt did not let that happen. Though West Ham found the net, it was unfortunately their own. McTominay thought he had scored it though, and celebrated, and for a while no one was really sure that he hadn’t. Dawson’s mistake cost the Hammers greatly. United won by an own goal, but they deserved the three points they got, and solidified their position in second-place. Meanwhile West Ham remain in fifth place, with Europe still in their sights. 


So there it is! A tactical analysis of Manchester United’s 1-0 win over West Ham United on March 14, 2021. Be sure to check out more of our Match AnalysesTactical Analyses, and articles pertaining to this Premier League season. Also be sure to follow @mastermindsite on social media and follow via email below to never miss an update. Thanks for reading and see you soon.

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