Scott McTominay’s low strike in the first half of extra time proved to be enough to earn Manchester United a 1-0 win over West Ham that booked their spot in the quarterfinals of the FA Cup. West Ham were riven by injuries at Old Trafford, losing two center-backs by the start of the second half as Angelo Ogbonna was forced off through injury and his replacement Issa Diop became one of the first players in English football to be substituted under the FA’s new concussion protocols. Andriy Yarmolenko, filling in for the fatigued Michail Antonio, also did not make the hour mark as the Hammers found themselves battling to hold firm against wave upon wave of Manchester United attacks.
For the most part the hosts crashed against the West Ham rocks and on the rare occasions they did trickle through they found Lukasz Fabianski to be unbeatable, the Pole saving smartly from a Victor Lindelof header and Marcus Rashford on his right foot. With the injury-addled visitors unable to create much on the counter and ultimately failing to register a shot on target until the 112th minute, a further half hour of extra time were hardly cause for delight for any neutral.
But as is so often the case Manchester United looked a different side after the introduction of Bruno Fernandes, who combined with Anthony Martial for an invigorating dart down the left flank that would end — via a composed Rashford flick — with McTominay hammering home the game’s only goal.
Donny van de Beek: Not for the first time of late, it didn’t click for the former Ajax midfielder. To an extent that is entirely natural: he was being asked to fill in for United’s most important player in Bruno Fernandes, he lacked sharpness and his team-mates did not seem to be entirely in sync with his movements. The cause for concern is that his frequency of game time may not improve after a display like tonight’s. RATING: 4
Lukasz Fabianski: The 35-year-old might have expected to be busier for all Manchester United’s dominance of the ball but when his excellent rearguard did buckle he was on hand to help them out, quick and light on his feet to parry what danger came his way. RATING: 8
Mason Greenwood: In a game that did not exactly suit his skillset, Greenwood still impressed with his commitment to constantly forcing the issue. A pirouette that took him past Mark Noble typified his impressive ability to draw opponents to him and then beat them. RATING: 7
Fernandes sparks United into life again
In Martial, Mason Greenwood and Rashford, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer deployed three incisive forwards who can rifle through high lines in the blink of an eye. The question was always going to be what would happen if the Red Devils could not find any room to attack.
The answer was underwhelming in the extreme. It is of course natural for any team to have difficulties against what was often a bank of five and four but the hosts did not seem to be coming up with approaches that might get them around or behind West Ham. Alex Telles’ ability to crash in a cross from wide is not to be sniffed at but Edinson Cavani — who did not see action until the 86th minute — is a far better candidate to exploit those deliveries than Martial.
Van De Beek can drift into spaces to make the next pass along but he had Fred and Nemanja Matic behind him, neither of them exactly known for line-breaking passes. As such it was only a matter of time before Solskjaer settled on his all too familiar plan: get Fernandes on the pitch and hope he does something. In the manager’s defense, it works more often than not.
It was immediately apparent that Fernandes could offer something Van De Beek could not, an impudent flick of his right boot finding Greenwood in the sort of space he so rarely occupied in the game’s first 70 minutes. His teammate’s were on No. 18’s wavelength in a way they hadn’t been with his replacement and the Portuguese knew when to drift wide and combine with Martial, who looked far more comfortable on the left after Cavani’s introduction.
Hammers Antonio-less growing pains
It was only natural that West Ham should opt not to risk the fitness of Michail Antonio for all that their talismanic forward might have aided their bid to win silverware in a year where the fifth-placed side in the Premier League have no reason not to go for it. Still it is scarcely a week on from Moyes deciding not to spend money that was available to him to sign a striker on deadline day. He must be wondering if he made a mistake.
With Manchester United loanee Jesse Lingard ineligible and Said Benrahma on the bench it fell to Andriy Yarmolenko to lead the line. Whether he can do so for any side in any game remains to be seen but what was clear was he was ill-suited for a West Ham side that needed to be able to hit their opponents on the counter.
With Antonio, Jarrod Bowen and Pablo Fornals have players to build off, someone who can hold up the ball, win crosses and spin in behind. Yarmolenko ran the channels, pressed with energy and looked to chase any half chance but simply could not be the striker West Ham needed for a game where they needed to be able to clear their lines without the ball coming back at them.
Naturally it was all the harder for West Ham to build anything approximating attacking movement when their defense lost first Ogbonna and then Diop, the latter becoming one of the first concussion substitutes in English football after a clash of heads with Martial. That it became easier when Yarmolenko made way for teenager Ademipo Odubeko, who had come through the ranks at Old Trafford, ought not to be taken as a reflection on the Ukrainian, rather that the introduction of an 18-year-old forced the entire team to take on the creative burden they hadn’t beforehand.
Certainly Moyes himself was not enamored with Odubeko’s performance, substituting the substitute in the second half of extra time for Manuel Lanzini. Benrahma, the man who wears the No. 9 shirt, looked a rather more comfortable fit in central areas but spurned one of the best chances of the game when he headed at Dean Henderson from eight yards out. It was not the sort of chance Antonio would let pass him by.