West Ham United played host to Manchester United at the London Stadium on Sunday, as part of the fifth round of the 2021-22 Premier League campaign. It was a match which must’ve brought some memories back for two men – West Ham manager David Moyes who was in charge at Old Trafford for most of 2013-14, and Jesse Lingard, the Manchester United winger who spent the second half of last season on a rather successful loan spell with the Hammers.
As fate would have it, it was Lingard who scored the goal that settled the match after Said Benrahma broke the deadlock for the home side and Cristiano Ronaldo equalized, and Moyes who made an extremely dubious call at the very end which appears to have cost his team a point.
The Inevitable Ronaldo
For 34 minutes the Portuguese superstar seemed uninterested in the match. He was rarely involved in the play, and whenever his teammates tried to get the ball to him, it either never reached him due to fine defensive work from the opposition, or he simply lost it. But Ronaldo has proven on countless occasions throughout his extremely illustrious career that those matches are probably when he’s the most dangerous version of himself.
West Ham had just taken the lead through Benrahma, whose shot caught a deflection off Raphael Varane and ended up behind the back of David De Gea, but one moment, one lapse of concentration from a defender, that’s all it takes for Ronaldo to spring to life and find the back of the net, and so it happened again. It was Aaron Cresswell who failed in his task as he got caught between trying to stop Ronaldo directly and trying to catch him offside on a Bruno Fernandes cross. Ronaldo did well to flick the ball on target and Lukasz Fabianski in the West Ham goal made a fine save, but Ronaldo was again the quickest one to react and slotted home from barely a yard.
The 36-year-old five-time Ballon d’Or winner scored a very similar goal, and then another one, on his second debut for the club against Newcastle a week before. He was also on target in the shocking defeat to Young Boys in the Champions League in midweek, and now again. That’s four goals in three matches since his return to Old Trafford, and manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer won’t be thinking too much about the absent duo of Edinson Cavani and Marcus Rashford at this point.
On the other hand, managers and defenders across the league will certainly be thinking about Ronaldo.
The Lingard Redemption
Ronaldo’s goal obviously prevented West Ham from getting too much wind in their sails, having come about five minutes after Benrahma’s opener, but from that point on, the game could have gone either way. Both teams went forward in search of a second, alternating in besieging the opposition box. With 72 minutes gone, Solskjaer brought on Lingard to replace Paul Pogba, causing a warm applause to stem from the stands from the West Ham supporters. Lingard’s contribution to their cause last season obviously hadn’t been forgotten.
But with less than two minutes of the 90 remaining, the 28-year-old charged into the box from the left side and cut inside, before firing past Fabianski into the far top corner. A lovely goal from the man whose career at United seemed all but finished. Lingard tried as hard as he could to contain his happiness out of respect for the supporters of the club that helped him get back on track, even though his teammates seemed bent on getting him to celebrate.
His West Ham affiliations aside, Lingard will be extremely happy about scoring this goal and earning his team the victory, having been the one to have brought about their downfall in Switzerland with a painfully poor back-pass that set up the Young Boys winner. Has he earned forgiveness from the United faithful? Probably.
Moyes’ Noble Mistake
Having gone from 1-0 up to 1-2 down, it seemed the match would end up a disaster for the Hammers after Lingard’s goal, but the full extent of it could still not have been guessed at that point.
The injury time was well underway when the Hammers went for what seemed a last-gasp attempt to salvage a point out of the wreckage, and an opportunity, better than they could have hoped for, unexpectedly presented itself. Andriy Yarmolenko, who had come on in the place of Nikola Vlasic, hit a cross from the right flank and it hit the raised arm of Luke Shaw. It’s hard to talk about intention here, but the arm of the United left-back certainly wasn’t in a natural position and it did make him bigger as an obstacle. Referee Martin Atkinson didn’t give the penalty straight away, but word came from the VAR room and he went to the pitch-side screen. Having reviewed the situation, he came back with his hand pointing to the spot.
Moyes obviously wanted West Ham’s 34-year-old captain, Mark Noble, who is far from a regular starting place these days, to have a moment of glory and give the fans something to cheer about once more. The veteran midfielder came on to replace Jarrod Bowen, obviously with the sole task of taking the penalty, took the ball and placed it on the spot.
Something similar happened in the final of the Euros earlier this year, when England boss Gareth Southgate brought on Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho in the 120th minute to take penalties in the subsequent shootout. They both missed, along with Bukayo Saka who entered the fray earlier.
And it happened again. De Gea in the United goal read Noble’s shot or simply guessed right, made a relatively comfortable save, kept the three points for his team and made both Moyes and Noble look extremely naive.
Manchester United rejoined Liverpool, who beat Crystal Palace 3-0 at Anfield on Saturday, at the top of the table with 13 points after this win, and Chelsea have done so since as well, by beating Tottenham Hotspur 0-3 in North London. As for West Ham, it was a wasted opportunity to keep close to these teams, and they are now eighth with eight points.
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