Aaron Cresswell’s free-kick found the corner of David de Gea’s net with six minutes left, the away end of the London Stadium started to empty. It takes a lot for Manchester United’s travelling support to turn their backs on their team but afternoons like this will do it.
Against a West Ham team that did not even have to play to its potential to win, United rolled over to a second Premier League defeat of the season. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team have won just two of their opening six games and sit eighth in the table ahead of Chelsea’s game with Liverpool on Sunday afternoon. That – strange as it sounds – feels about right for this poorly assembled, modestly-talented group of footballers. There is no longer a feeling of shock about results like this.
Any decent Premier League team that presents United with any kind of challenge these days has a chance of winning. United are a mid-table Premier League football team in waiting and have been for some time. United do have injuries. On Sunday they were without Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial, a forward who brings them vital pace to play on the counter attack. To add salt to Ole wounds Rashford adds to number of absentees, the England forward appeared to tweak a thigh muscle and was immediately replaced by Jesse Lingard. Short of an actual centre forward on the bench, Solskjaer had no chance to play Lingard through the middle. But that is not what made the difference here.
West Ham were simply better all over the field. The London club finally have a team that may be about to move forwards while United continue to regress. The first half was awful. Both teams were leaden and one-paced. But West Ham always carried the greater threat and when Andriy Yarmolenko applied a technically proficient finish to a neat move from Manuel Pellegrini’s team in the 44th minute, it suddenly seemed an awful long way back for United.
They threatened sporadically in the second period but there was never a sustained period of play when they looked as though they would find a way back. West Ham goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianksi made one decent save all afternoon.
Fifteen minutes later, the threat was a little greater. A nicely worked corner routine found Mark Noble on the edge of the penalty area and his volley took a slight deflection off Victor Lindelof before De Gea dropped to his left to save by the post.
Noble was already proving influential. The West Ham captain was involved in most of what was good about his team’s forward play and may have scored himself had Anderson’s lateral pass to him in the penalty area not been under hit in the 40th minute.
That was disappointing for the home team but they could take encouragement from the fact that United were not troubling them at all. United had plenty of the ball and much of it in the West Ham half but when it came to it, there was no change of gear when it was required.