Fans and pundits have put pressure on Louis van Gaal to change his tactical philosophy throughout the season, and with each game the chorus of dissent is getting harder to ignore. Snappy underdogs West Ham are the perfect team to inflict Manchester United’s first home defeat of the season, and if they do then something may finally change.
West Ham’s statistics confirm their reserved, counter-attacking approach when playing away from home. They commit 10.1 fouls (the fifth-fewest) and make 14.4 interceptions (third-fewest) per away game, standing off their opponents in disciplined formation before awaiting the chance for a counter. In the three giant-killings to date – at Arsenal, Liverpool, and Man City – West Ham have averaged just 37% possession.
This system is well-suited to the territorially dominant approach Manchester United will take, and the slow build-up play that accompanies it; Van Gaal’s team may average the second-highest possession in the league (56.7%), but they take the third-fewest shots on goal (9.6 per match). Many confuse Van Gaal’s deliberate tactical decision to play in a controlling, short-passing style with his side’s current attacking woes, but in truth – though the former may be producing the latter – United’s manager is aware that his team are struggling for fluency and not currently producing the attacking style he wishes for.
The most obvious reason for this is Wayne Rooney’s selection, although yet another poor performance against Leicester could – at last – see Van Gaal drop his captain to the bench. As well as averaging just 1.0 key passes per game this season and failing to record a single assist, Rooney is surprisingly unsuited to the overall aesthetic of the team; he has an 81.4% pass accuracy, the 14th highest in the Man United squad. If United persist with Rooney, then West Ham should be able to hold out for at least a point.
However, the key statistic ahead of this match is that West Ham have conceded the most goals from errors in the Premier League this season (8). James Tomkins dallied on the ball against Watford to concede the opener and then wildly misplaced a pass at White Hart Lane that allowed Harry Kane to score. He was dropped to the bench against West Brom, only for Winston Reid to score an own goal.
The lesson to be learned from this is that United can unsettle West Ham’s shaky defence by injecting pace into the forward line. It is not hard to envisage Memphis Depay and Anthony Martial – perhaps playing together up front in a 3-5-2 that still allows space for the impressive Ashley Young – terrorising Reid and Angelo Ogbonna with their directness and drilled cross-shots. Given that they have scored just six goals in eight matches, this is no time for tactical nuance: United need an injection of fearless energy to pierce through the West Ham back line and force match-winning errors.
Man United vs West Ham LIVE ANALYSIS with Stats Zone
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