Manchester United certainly had their stars and David De Gea to thank as they secured a 2-1 win over West Ham United on Sunday.
To be fair, the traveling side was certainly aided by a questionable tactic of David Moyes for gifting all three points in a tough battle.
The London outfit were prompt in their defense and made life hard for the visitors with a lucky yet hard-won opener from Said Benrahma. However, it took only five minutes for the experienced feet of Cristiano Ronaldo, playing his 900th club game, to score Manchester United’s 100th Premier League goal against the Hammers.
The poetic drama continued for the home side when substitute Jesse Lingard, who was cheered by the crowd from warm-up to entry, ended up silencing the stadium with his crucial winner.
But the late drama did not end there, with a Luke Shaw contact inside the box deemed by both the VAR and the on-field referee to be a penalty. Mark Noble’s shot was heroically saved by De Gea and a Premier League classic was added to the history books.
1. Ronaldo Contained Initially by Defense
As much as Moyes’ tactics will be questioned for his late decision, the manner in which the home side kept Cristiano Ronaldo quiet for much of the fixture speaks volumes about their defensive discipline.
The backline was impeccable in blocking key crosses from reaching the Portuguese superstar as well as in ensuring that a vast majority of his shots were limited in their scope.
As for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the gaffer may be forced to tinker with his attack and perhaps consider adding a second striker to the mix.
2. Lingard’s Return to the London Stadium
Jesse Lingard’s class was on full display during the few minutes he spent on the pitch. The stadium certainly set the precedent for this given that he was applauded and cheered on right from the warm-up.
As such, when the crucial goal was scored by the Englishman who spent a good chunk of last season on loan at West Ham, it was a mark of great respect that the boyhood United player chose not to celebrate.
If fans of the Hammers were regretting their failure to acquire Lingard this summer, such a display will only deepen their woes.
However, with this goal, Lingard certainly absolved himself of the error that led to the late winner being scored against the Red Devils in the Champions League mid-week.
3. McFred is Back
Scott McTominay and Fred displayed their reunion in a mixed fashion.
Solskjaer’s go-to pivot certainly struggled in the first-half and it is quite telling that when the side had to desperately score a goal, the gaffer turned to Nemanja Matic to turn things around, bringing Fred off.
The crucial piece of nuance to add there is that while Matic did assist the crucial winner, he was likely also brought on to ensure that the precise sort of error that occurred against Young Boys on Tuesday did not repeat itself.
4. A Tale of Two Subs
In the end, the game hinged on the substitutions that the two managers relied upon. Solskjaer identified the threat posed by the Hammers and introduced Matic to stabilize play. Lingard likely came on to pose a fresh threat as well as to gain new confidence. Things worked out way better than expected for the Mancunian outfit.
Meanwhile, Moyes’ late gamble at bringing on Mark Noble solely to kick the penalty was one to be forgotten. Having said that, it would be crucial to wonder as to what would have occurred to Moyes’ tactical credentials had De Gea not saved the shot.
5. VAR Drama
The revised VAR rules were in action aplenty during this fixture. On multiple occasions, Cristiano Ronaldo posed pieces of contact that would have easily been awarded under the previous campaign’s rules.
However, this time around that was not the case and a mixed bag of options was at the referee’s mercy.
As such, it comes as no surprise that there is much uproar over how Luke Shaw’s handball was deemed an adequate piece of contact to award a penalty. Needless to say, this may occur more often in the match weeks to come.