In Premier League play on Sunday at Old Trafford, Manchester United defeated West Ham United 1-0.
The two teams had an equal number of shots on goal (three each), while Manchester United had a slight advantage in possession (54%-46%). However, the difference was made by a Marcus Rashford goal in the 38th minute.
Man United has now gone five league games without suffering a loss (and their last eight including the Europa League).
1. Could Man United actually contend for the championship?
Manchester United “are back,” according to Pep Guardiola, but might they truly threaten to enter the title fight once play resumes after the World Cup?
After defeating West Ham 1-0 on Sunday at Old Trafford, they moved up to fifth place in the standings, eight points behind the league-leading Arsenal, and have only suffered one league loss since August.
West Ham had United fight for the victory, but they played solid defense in the second half to keep a fifth unblemished record in their previous six games. The game’s winning play, a one-two between Bruno Fernandes and Christian Eriksen followed by a forceful header from Marcus Rashford, deserved to be the deciding factor despite the fact that goals are still not coming easily.
In order to secure the victory, David De Gea had to make three outstanding saves in the final minutes, but Lisandro Martinez also contributed by putting up an outstanding defensive performance in the middle of the back four alongside Harry Maguire, who started a league game for the first time since the 4-0 loss at Brentford. United might have had to settle for a point or worse on an other day, but title races are founded on tenacious performances, and this was one.
Perhaps Guardiola is correct.
2. In front of Southgate, Rashford scores as a World Cup decision approaches.
Rashford’s thunderous header at the back post gave United its 100th goal. He drove past Thilo Kehrer a day before turning 25 to score off an Eriksen cross, which he brilliantly flicked in on the half volley.
After scoring as a substitute against FC Sheriff on Thursday, it was Rashford’s second headed goal in as many days, but this one was scored in front of England manager Gareth Southgate, who was watching from the directors’ box. Rashford has regained form just in time with the World Cup just three weeks away.
The forward, who was benched by Southgate last season, must wait anxiously to learn whether or not he will travel to Qatar, but with goals like the one he scored here at Old Trafford, he’s given himself a decent chance of making the team. He will very certainly compete as long as he stays in shape.
The situation is different for Jadon Sancho. He was also benched by Southgate last year, but Ten Hag preferred Anthony Elanga to play on the right side of his front three despite Antony’s injuries. He has little chance of making England’s final squad if he can’t join United’s lineup, even when there are injuries.
3. West Ham unnerves Ten Hag
Although West Ham has had a terrible start to the season, they will soon be back in the top half of the standings. David Moyes’ team is gradually regaining the form that saw them finish seventh last season after beginning with three straight losses, and they could feel they were entitled to more from their journey to Manchester.
Although they had lost their last 15 league games at Old Trafford, there were times, especially in the second half, when they were the superior team. Ten Hag made an early substitution after halftime, replacing Elanga with Scott McTominay and moving Fernandes to the right side, which was a sign of how uneasy he was becoming on the touchline.
It assisted United in absorbing some of the pressure, but they still needed De Gea’s heroics late on, as well as good defending from Diogo Dalot at the back post to head clear three threatening crosses.
The fact that Moyes had to substitute Gianluca Scamacca for Michail Antonio rather than playing both of his primary strikers together after the latter was fortunate to avoid a red card for a head-high challenge on Martinez didn’t assist West Ham’s cause.