Sixth within the desk, unbeaten in 5 video games. These haven’t historically been the issues Manchester United would boast about. They have achieved way more too usually to say. Now, nevertheless, this may increasingly signify the excessive level of a troubled marketing campaign; maybe, for the usually beleaguered Erik ten Hag, the springboard that may rescue it.
Winning the battle for sixth, and dislodging West Ham, places United of their joint greatest place of the season after their joint largest victory of the marketing campaign. Besides beating Aston Villa, they’d not seen off anybody at the moment within the prime 9, so West Ham ranks amongst their prize scalps. And if that five-game sequence consists of FA Cup ties towards lower-league Wigan and Newport and three matches once they have misplaced leads, they’re at the very least undefeated in 2024 and buying some momentum.
Perhaps most encouragingly, United have been propelled onwards by males who may very well be scoring for them nicely into the 2030s. This was their future towards their previous, with their former supervisor David Moyes overcome as Rasmus Hojlund scored on his twenty first birthday and Alejandro Garnacho, nonetheless an adolescent, delivered a double. An image of three rookies – with Kobbie Mainoo the opposite – celebrating sat collectively on an promoting hoarding might show the afternoon’s abiding picture. As United marked the sixty fifth anniversary of the Munich air catastrophe, it felt becoming that children have been the match-winners. Ten Hag’s willingness to belief in rising expertise is one in all his best attributes. He has been rewarded in current weeks.
A predecessor might deem himself luckless. Moyes has nonetheless by no means received a league recreation at Old Trafford as a visiting supervisor. A primary half when West Ham have been superior steered his wait may finish; now it seems nonetheless likelier it by no means will. Moyes’s aspect possess a much better document than United this season towards the supposed huge six. They had extra photographs at Old Trafford however with out changing any of their 21. Too few – a mere three – have been heading in the right direction.
They may rue a decisive minute when Emerson Palmieri, capitalising on a mistake by the recalled Harry Maguire, may have equalised however lashed a shot broad and as an alternative Garnacho, aided by a deflection, put United two objectives forward.
It was their misfortune, too, to come across Andre Onana on an uncharacteristically good day. After his ignominious African Cup of Nations – three objectives conceded, no saves, dropped for his cousin who performs within the French third division – Ten Hag’s No 1 produced a terrific early save, reacting neatly after Tomas Soucek’s header was redirected by Edson Alvarez. A subsequent cease from Ben Johnson denied the Hammers a leveller.
If Onana’s errors have undermined United this season, Ten Hag is lastly benefiting from one thing he lengthy lacked: in-form forwards. Hojlund scored his fifth aim in six video games, Garnacho a second brace in three residence matches. Marcus Rashford didn’t be part of them on the scoresheet however his first outing at Old Trafford since his evenings out in Belfast handed easily.
There was a verve to United and a menace. Garnacho sparkled and his captain was influential and spectacular. Alphonse Areola flew to his left to make sure Bruno Fernandes’ 25-yard roller didn’t discover the highest nook, however a breakthrough got here in model. A scorer of a Champions League hat-trick for Moyes’ United was within the administrators’ field and it’s secure to imagine Robin van Persie admired the execution.
It was an additional affirmation of Hojlund’s potential. He confirmed first deftness after which explosiveness, beating Nayef Aguerd with a trendy flip after which Areola with a fierce shot. Wrong-footed then, Aguerd discovered himself within the improper place within the second half when Garnacho’s shot flew in off him. The 19-year-old’s second of the day was extra deliberate, angled in together with his less-favoured proper foot after a burst ahead by the substitute Scott McTominay. United, who had not received a league recreation at Old Trafford by a couple of aim all season, had three.
West Ham’s day, which had begun promisingly, turned bitter. Kalvin Phillips was dropped, three days after a disastrous debut, whereas Johnson was pressed into service without any consideration winger in a reshuffle. West Ham have been instantly sharper than they have been towards Bournemouth on Thursday. There was loads of intent in a purposeful efficiency however they missed Lucas Paqueta, who unlocked United together with his passing of their December win.
Ten Hag spared Raphael Varane a second begin in 4 days. Maguire got here in and had a reprieve when he misplaced the ball to Emerson. Alongside him, Lisandro Martinez was combative earlier than hobbling off. It represented the one fear for United. That aside, it grew to become the kind of day they’ve waited for. The query now could be if the excessive will precede additional lows or if will probably be an indication of issues to return.