[Premier League] Manchester United 3-1 West Ham United
ManUtd: Danny Welbeck (26), Adnan Januzaj (37), Ashley Young (78)
West Ham: Carlton Cole (81)
A commanding performance against West Ham United, embossed by beautifully crafted goals from Danny Welbeck, Adnan Januzaj and Ashley Young, gave Manchester United a 3-1 victory and a first Barclays Premier League home win since beating Arsenal in November.
The Reds made an ideal start to the hectic festive period with an up-tempo display from the off, almost forging ahead inside two minutes as Tom Cleverley’s close-range effort was well fended away by Hammers goalkeeper Adrian.
Wayne Rooney, who recovered from a groin injury to return to David Moyes’ lineup, arced a free-kick narrowly past the Spaniard’s top corner before Antonio Valencia’s drilled effort was beaten away. The Hammers’ resistance was ended before the half-hour, however, as Welbeck impishly flicked a pass to Rooney, motored onto the return ball and fired a left-footed finish across Adrian.
The Reds’ strike duo combined again as United's lead was doubled 10 minutes later. Rooney charged down James Collins’ clearance and Welbeck combined with Januzaj to release the teenage winger inside the visitors’ area. Shimmying inside, Januzaj left Collins in his wake before crashing an unstoppable low finish past Adrian.
United might have substantially enhanced the scoreline, with Valencia firing over after a lightning counter-attack, Jonny Evans having a header nudged wide by Mark Noble and Chicharito seeing a goal disallowed for a contentious offside decision. With 18 minutes remaining, substitute Young rounded off the hosts' scoring with a magnificent finish high into the top corner after a simple lay-off from Rooney. Hammers substitute Carlton Cole sprung United's offside trap and slid in a finish to deny the Reds a clean sheet, but that couldn't take the gloss off a composed, commanding display.
The Match United's early intent promised much and a two-goal lead at the break was fully warranted as an up-tempo approach gave West Ham no time to settle in possession. The visitors offered little attacking threat, and that which existed was decisively snuffed out by a dominant defensive display from United's back four and midfield minders – that is, until that one defensive lapse at the end, allowing Carlton Cole to capitalise. By that point, Ashley Young had already made it 3-0, a lead that understated the Reds' control of the game. Cole’s goal curtailed hopes of a fourth successive clean sheet; a minor irritant on a comfortable afternoon.
The Goals A pair of beautifully-taken efforts made the difference for United in the first half. Welbeck's opener - his first Old Trafford goal in 14 months - stemmed from his own sublime flick inside to Rooney, whose return pass was clinically fired home. A similar exchange between Welbeck and Januzaj culminated in an equally emphatic finish by the teenager, as Januzaj dropped a shoulder and evaded James Collins before steering a shot past Adrian. After the break, substitute Young hit the finish of the game with a magnificent, top-corner effort with his first touch.
Star men As much as this game was characterised by United’s attacking intent, Chris Smalling provided a flawless display in defence, oozing confidence in possession and dominant when trying to win it back. Phil Jones was equally prominent in midfield, reading play and providing defensive cover to prevent West Ham’s intermittent attacks. Wayne Rooney underlined his importance to the cause with a part in all three goals.
Sub plots Ravel Morrison, once a bright prospect in United’s youth ranks, made a largely frustrating first return to Old Trafford. He was booked for kicking out at Tom Cleverley, who went on to help United win the midfield battle, playing a key role in dictating the Reds’ tempo.
Opposition West Ham offered precious little in the way of a genuine attacking threat for most of the afternoon, so much so that Carlton Cole’s goal after 81 minutes was a source of frustration for David Moyes. Substitute Alex Büttner had only been on the pitch a minute and was perhaps not fully up to speed as he inadvertently played Cole onside when the rest of the defence had stepped up.
Move of the match The build-up for United’s goals, ultimately, were the most incisive, but late in the first period a break-neck counter-attack deserved a better finish than it received. Smalling's towering header released Valencia, who motored forward and swapped passes with Rafael before steering his finish over the bar.
In the stands Festive for periods, particularly midway through the second period. Credit to West Ham's vocal visiting fans, who sang: "You're not special, we lose every week.” We prefer to think United got the game-plan right – good tempo, attacking intent, and clinical in front of goal. So everyone in Red goes home happy ahead of Christmas.