Sir Alex Ferguson has often criticised the Manchester United defence this season for conceding early goals and for taking too long to get into games. It must have been very refreshing for the boss for the defence to not only keep a clean sheet but tactically play in the way they did.
United started with a combination of Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling in the middle of the defence and they complimented each other well. They stuck together when they needed to which gave them a better chance of dealing with the immense physical presence of Andy Carroll and they ensured there wasn’t a gaping hole through the heart of the team which West Ham could exploit.
There was also a big improvement from Rafael. The right-back has been caught out of position frequently this season but he got the balance between going forward and staying back just about right. He still looked a little vulnerable when put under pressure by the winger but his retreat from attacks was much quicker than we’ve seen so far this season. This meant there was no need for a centre back to break out of position to cover for him.
“Jonny Evans and Rafael were fantastic, so there were plus points tonight. There were opportunities to score more goals, so I am pleased with the result. If we keep clean sheets from now until January, then it will give us a good foundation to go all the way (to winning the Premier League title). There were plus points for everyone to see,” Ferguson told Sky Sports after the game.
The position of the defensive line was also very good which kept the pressure off of Anders Lindegaard in the United goal. They didn’t drop too deep which gave the goalkeeper a much better chance to see what was going on, he was also able to point out players who were out of position which gave them a chance to react before any West Ham free kick was taken.
There was clear evidence of the back four playing as a unit which has been missing at times this season. All four players moved as one which made it all the more difficult for West Ham to break through. United are very comfortable when a side plays football in front of them and when the ball got passed out wide, the United defence reacted quickly which meant they cut off this alternative for West Ham.
Overall it was a much better performance from a United team at the right time, just before a busy Christmas period where vital points can be won and lost.
image: © Nasmac