United show winning mentality as Aguerd makes a mess of it
WE were into the 90th minute at Old Trafford, heading into four minutes of added time and towards extra-time. West Ham had done more than enough to earn it, having come close to knocking Manchester United out of the FA Cup.
But Erik ten Hag has built a team that knows how to win. Three days after lifting the Carabao Cup at Wembley, United dug deep and produced the goals that could give them a chance of going back there.
The board was about to go up showing four minutes of added time when Nayef Aguerd — whose own-goal had allowed United back into the tie — fluffed a clearance from Bruno Fernandes’ cross and then blocked Wout Weghorst’s effort.
The ball ran for Alejandro Garnacho on the edge of the box and he knew just what to do. The teenager curled an exquisite shot beyond Alphonse Areola and into the bottom corner. Old Trafford erupted, West Ham, despaired. Five minutes later it was all over. The hapless Aguerd miscontrolled Marcus Rashford’s cross under pressure from Weghorst and Fred stole in to sidefoot home.
It was not the most convincing of performances or the fairest result, but United are on the march. Again. Winning the Carabao Cup has only made them hungry for more. Just three days after Wembley and four before going to Anfield, it was to be expected that he made six changes. It would have been seven if Jadon Sancho had not fallen ill.
But without Casemiro’s presence, Rashford’s penetration and the safety provided by Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez, United are not the same. West Ham will have sensed that and could have been ahead at half-time after absorbing early pressure.
Areola got down to his right to make an excellent one-handed save from Marcel Sabitzer and Weghorst was relieved to see that he was offside after stabbing wide from just a couple of yards out.
United’s only other effort of note in the first half saw Scott
McTominay volley straight into Tomas Soucek’s face.
West Ham’s best chance arrived in the 23rd minute when Said Benrahma chested the ball down in midfield and split Maguire and Victor Lindelof with a superb throughball that sent Michail Antonio galloping clear.
However, De Gea showed why he holds that clean sheet record as he stood strong and blocked the striker’s effort before Soucek headed narrowly wide from the corner. Antonio and Lucas Paqueta both fired straight at De Gea from distance but it was a sign that United were feeling uncomfortable that Maguire and McTominay were both booked for cynical fouls on Antonio and Benrahma.
Ten Hag’s response was to cut short Casemiro’s rest period and send on the Brazilian for the second half. It nearly brought an immediate reward as he was at the heart of a move that ended with Weghorst firing narrowly over in the 50th minute. He was
also involved in West Ham’s goal four minutes later.
Casemiro seemed to have Soucek hemmed in on the United right, and the Czech dragged the ball onto the touchline but, crucially, not quite over it, according to the officials. Not if you consider the curvature of the ball, a debate we remember from Japan versus Spain at the World Cup.
Playing to the whistle has always been the golden rule. Casemiro did but Diogo Dalot did not as Soucek smuggled the ball to Emerson and he passed it to Benrahma. He took one touch before letting fly and his shot arrowed into the top corner.
Ten Hag summoned Rashford and Martinez off the bench but the Hammers had the scent of blood. Pablo Fornals fired inches wide and De Gea had to save oneon-one from Antonio again.
They knew what was coming though. Casemiro led the charge with a fierce effort that Areola did well to save again and Fernandes volleyed over. The Portuguese then floated in a free-kick and
Casemiro headed home, just as he did at Wembley. This time, VAR ruled it out for offside.
There was no reprieve for West Ham three minutes later. Fernandes delivered again from a corner and Aguerd rose to meet it. Was it the pressure from Weghorst and Maguire or did the defender just get it wrong? Instead of heading clear, he glanced the ball past Areola and into his own net.
The night did not get better for Aguerd as United left it late to break the Hammers’ hearts.