Manchester United rescued a point late, late on at Upton Park, with Daley Blind sweeping home an equaliser in the shadows of full-time.
Here are the bullet points:
- Wayne Rooney is not a midfielder. He may have attributes which should theoretically be relevant in that part of the pitch, but he has almost no natural feel for the position. Rooney is a very instinctive player and he’s a rounded enough footballer to be passable in deeper areas, but this feels like a contrary reduction of his potential impact. He breaks late into the penalty-box well and he has a nice range of passing, but he lacks the fundamental positional discipline and subtlety to be anything like the force he is in the attacking zones.
If either Radamel Falcao or Robin van Persie were anywhere near the top of their form, then Louis Van Gaal’s decision would be vindicated. They’re not and, subsequently, it’s not.
Even more bizarrely, whilst Rooney looks awkward and van Persie and Falcao labour, Ander Herrera - who seems to almost always improve United when he’s used - sits on the bench.
- A measure of the imbalance in Van Gaal’s team is the defensive burden on Daley Blind. The Dutchman is a capable holding-midfielder and he possesses a nice passing range, but United lack a two-way player ahead of him who can help him to protect that fragile defence as and when necessary. As mentioned above, Wayne Rooney is an energetic player who will do the required running, but he is not an accomplished ball-winner or game-reader by any stretch of the imagination and is a mere body rather than an actual presence in his own half.
- Diafra Sakho is excellent and, as and when they come around, he will surely feature on most of those ‘signing of the season’ lists.
We know about Sakho’s goal-scoring and his aerial ability is well-established, but his off-the-ball work at the top of Sam Allardyce’s formation is frequently outstanding. He doesn’t quite look big enough to be physically imposing, but his combination of upper-body strength and technique makes him very difficult to defend against.
Applaud his goals, but recognise everything else that he does.
- Alex Song has set a very high standard for himself this season and, perhaps, he didn’t quite match that yesterday - regardless, though, he was still an essential part of West Ham’s restricting work. Song is often thought of as a player who prefers to be expressive with the ball at his feet, but his defensive work has become far more disciplined than it ever really was at Arsenal. Detractors will point to the number of free-kicks he gave away in his own half yesterday, but - although cynical - that’s a valid part of disrupting an opponent’s rhythm. He made five interceptions in the second-half alone and, as West Ham dropped deeper, he became almost an auxiliary centre-back at times.
He didn’t use the ball as well as he can and has, but it was still a noteworthy performance.
- There’s definitely an argument to make for Adrian being the most improved goalkeeper in the league. His shot-stopping has been very good since he arrived in England, but his handling seems more secure and - save one fumble whilst under duress - his aerial work has become far more reliable.
- Cheik Kouyate took his goal brilliantly, that goes without saying.
However, when Manchester United review the footage of that moment, their coaching staff will rightly ask why, firstly, Kouyate is able to take those three touches under so little pressure and, more importantly, how he was able to manufacture enough room to get off a shot.
Watch Wayne Rooney’s positioning during that sequence: he has no place being in that area of the pitch.
- A final word on Louis van Gaal: he inherited a less-than-perfect situation - true - but he has made very minimal progress this season. His apologists will point to the league table and to United’s record under the Dutchman, but the 2014/15 Premier League is clearly weaker than the 2013/14 equivalent.
The troubling aspect of this is that it isn’t obvious what van Gaal is moving towards, because United are less a work-in-progress and more just a group of players who never develop any chemistry with one another. Their football is robotic and predictable and not a single player at the club - David De Gea withstanding - has been the sum of their own parts this year.
Good teams accentuate the value of their individuals, but United are the absolute opposite: They are nothing more than their individuals.