David De Gea’s horror mistake gave West Ham the goal, but more worrying for Manchester United will be the lack of response in a tame 1-0 defeat…
A decidedly unfortunate possibility is starting to loom for Manchester United after this alarming and sloppy performance failure at West Ham.
The quadruple talk has always been silly – and as we said before it was never emanated by United players, managers or staff – but the fact that it was even a theoretical possibility now has a distinct note of absurdity about it.
Not only did the title charge never materialise, but United now find themselves in an unseemly fight for the top four spot that has appeared a certainty for much of the season.
And the worry now is not just that they could lose that place, but that they could lose it to a Liverpool side whose rapidly ending season currently looks like a reverse of United’s. In its own way it suits these two great rivals, but it will be a mortifying way to lose should that happen. Even Brighton are still involved, the scoundrels.
There is a mitigation for United in their cup runs that have made them the busiest team in the country in their most extraordinarily busy season. But recent form is now a big concern. Over the past 18 days, United have been humiliated at Sevilla, overcame Brighton on penalties in the FA Cup semi-final, come away from Spurs in a 2-2 draw that felt like a defeatthey beat Aston Villa 1-0 and have now lost by the same scoreline both in Brighton and West Ham.
The way these points are squandered isn’t pretty. Completely shut down at 2-0 and allow a physically and mentally shattered Spurs team to easily get back into the game. Conceding a silly injury-time penalty to Brighton. A screaming doorman here.
United have plenty of tired minds and tired bodies trying to crawl across the line for a top-four finish here, and all while trying to ensure they have something to give in the FA Cup Final against City. Trying to secure a top-four finish while fretting over an FA Cup final is no doubt the sort of worries many clubs wish they had, but there is a growing sense of a season that is just starting to fade.
The goal United conceded here is, of course, a disaster. How David De Gea managed to get a hand full for a shot that literally flowed towards him, barely managing to alter its course, is a true mystery that physicists will ponder for generations to come, but while it will attract inevitably all attention that may not be allowed to provide cover for everything else that has happened here.
As bad as that goalkeeper was – and it was very, very bad – one also has to wonder how Said Benrahma came to be able to buy his lottery ticket and hit the jackpot. He won the ball in midfield and then broke through a couple of challenges as well as De Gea’s right glove.
Even more alarming was what the goal did to the team. Up to that point, never doing anything as grand as playing well, United could at least claim a vague superiority and a sense of control. They certainly weren’t under much pressure or getting many questions. But the goal upset them in a way that no single goal, however serious, against the relegation fighters should upset a decent team.
West Ham were the better side from that point virtually until eight minutes of injury time at the end of the second half when Man United made a late and really quite extravagant attempt to force things back.
Had Victor Lindelof not inexplicably escaped a VAR inspection unscathed for a rather conspicuous arm-to-ball handball penalty late in the first half, it could have been worse. West Ham also disallowed a goal for a foul by Michail Antonio on De Gea who felt one of those decisions made by the goalkeepers a lot.
Erik Ten Hag’s side have been so lackluster and the embarrassing point about the strenuous nature of their season is the fact that this soporific performance came against West Ham, who haven’t exactly had a relaxing season.
Even without the tense nature of a relegation fight – a fight they’ve now almost certainly won after dropping seven points clear of their last five with just four games to play – West Ham can point to their Thursday night adventures in the Conference . They’ve been busy too, but those efforts could very well mean this ends up as one of the club’s best seasons despite assorted unfortunate moments along the way.
The fact that this achievement actually guarantees the safety of the Premier League is really secondary; they probably would have been fine anyway. But the added layer of security afforded by today’s well-deserved three points means that full attention can now be devoted to the two semi-final matches against AZ Alkmaar.
The Brentford match in between is not really important now. It’s a luxury David Moyes didn’t have before this accomplishment and it could be huge.
West Ham were better than Manchester United today and could end up with a pretty similar season: a trophy late in the cabinet and a place in next season’s Europa League.