United’s front three have an air of Roothlessness
There was perhaps an air of inevitability both at half time and at the final whistle for United fans. Indeed, there was nothing too surprising about United’s first half show when they went 2-0 down courtesy of a brace of Mark Noble penalties. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before in this emotion-heavy campaign. Then, having seen it at Blackpool earlier in the season, there was nothing too surprising about United’s offensive charge and verve to complete an outrageously ruthless comeback in the last half hour.
They say in football that the forward gets far too much credit and that thesis is true to an extent; but what United lacked in the first 45 minutes of the game was a clear system in which best to utilise their players. While Manchester United weren’t at all pathetic as some might have concluded in the first half they did seem to be struggling to break down the Hammers’ and failed to convert possession into clear-cut chances.
On came Javier Hernandez for Patrice Evra, and United switched to a 3-5-2 with Carrick dropping deeper to provide cover in front of the defence. Then Berbatov replaced Park; Wayne Rooney moved to the left and things changed. For the better. It was Rooney who set the tone after 65 minutes; curling a pearler of a free kick and that might have spelt the end for a West Ham victory despite still being in the lead. As Blackpool learned, allowing United back into the game doesn’t just mean more chances and backs against the wall stuff – it means goals.
“In the second-half when Chicharito came on he gave us that blinding pace – and he’s threatening all the time behind. So it meant they were going right back towards their box, which gave us space to operate in.” – Sir Alex Ferguson
There was not much difference between this one and that game at Bloomfield Road which also saw United two goals down. Berbatov and Hernandez were catalysts of that comeback and they had a stunning impact on this one too. We’ve seen such effectiveness from United’s forwards all season long; and so good have they been that it almost impossible to decide how to use them all. Can they play at the same time on the same pitch? Well, this game certainly did give a glimpse of the possibility of the partnership of the trio – although, yes, that may lead for some disjointedness in the Red Devils’ system. That’s a thought for another day, though.
“Berbatov was fantastic for us holding up the ball and making things happen.” – Wayne Rooney.
Rooney’s hat trick was unforeseeable, it must be said. He didn’t play with much cutting edge and despite linking up play well as he does, he didn’t press the hosts and showed some naivety at the lone striker which was rather uncharacteristic of him. But that one moment changed it all, his cute free kick which had Rob Green scratching his head in utter shock. He then scored his second with another neat finish and his third came from the spot. What many have to understand is that there is more to Rooney than goals, although perhaps today didn’t quite reflect that. But, it is more than encouraging, for that reason, to see him score and restore his instinctive touch that was with him last season.
United will surely go on and win the season and, should that happen, much credit will go to the threesome. They’re not infallible but they show such great understanding and, despite the inconsistencies we’ve seen with the whole team, there is still much reason to rejoice. Praise must also go to Antonio Valencia, too. He was efficient throughout, and even when United had looked lost he played with admirable flair. The visitors might not have been able to force a comeback against a stronger team in this fashion, but with Chelsea on Wednesday in Europe, what better preparation than having your best forwards in form?
<Figure 1> Look how deep Wayne Rooney played today (10) compared to Hernandez (14) and Berbatov (9). Giggs, who dropped to LB in the second field, was nearly as high up the field as the Englishman.
Average Touch Positions via ESPN Gamecast