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Premier League 2018/19 Manchester United West Ham tactical analysis

How Manchester United dodged the bullet against West Ham

After losing to Barcelona 1-0 in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League, Manchester United welcomed West Ham United to Old Trafford. This match was important for Manchester United in their pursuit of Champions League football for next season. After the bright start to his managerial tenure, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has struggled since that famous victory over Paris Saint-Germain. With only one victory in his past five matches, Manchester United needed these three points to stay in contention for a top-four finish.

This was a grinding victory for the home side, as West Ham United played well for large parts of this match. With two penalties, Paul Pogba scored the goals that ensured that Manchester United took all three points. West Ham United attacked well in an open match, bringing themselves level only five minutes after the half-time break. It took a penalty in the 80th minute for a foul on Anthony Martial before United were finally able to put this match to bed.


Premier League 2018/19: Manchester United vs West Ham United Tactical Analysis

Ole Gunnar Solskjær made five changes from the side that lost 1-0 at home to Barcelona. Ashley Young and Luke Shaw both missed this match through suspension, while others such as Victor Lindelöf, Scott McTominay and Marcus Rashford started the match on the bench to rest before the return leg against Barcelona. Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo started in the backline, while Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata, and Anthony Martial all started as the attackers behind Romelu Lukaku.

Manuel Pellegrini made three changes after his team stuttered to a meek 2-0 defeat to Chelsea on Monday. Marko Arnautović was left out of the squad entirely, while Aaron Cresswell and Ryan Fredericks were dropped to the bench. Robert Snodgrass got the start in central midfield, while Arthur Masuaku and Pablo Zabaleta took the starting full-back berths.

Keys to the match

This was a very open match that offered 14 shots for Manchester United, and 18 for West Ham. We’ll look at how Romelu Lukaku worked to try and get behind West Ham’s defensive line. Also, we’ll also look at how West Ham had success in attack.

Lukaku tries to find space

Manchester United were able to attack down the channels of a well-disciplined West Ham defence. This was the result of Romelu Lukaku continually making runs down the sides of the centre-backs, which was one of Manchester United’s most effective methods of attack.

As we can see in the images below, Paul Pogba can recognise the run of Lukaku ahead of him and plays a well-weighted pass down the channel. Lukaku is able to move wide into space behind Zabaleta, who was caught up the pitch when Manchester United recovered the ball.

Premier League 2018/19: Manchester United vs West Ham United Tactical Analysis
Paul Pogba spots the run of Romelu Lukaku (red arrow) as he makes the run into the channel, in behind Zabaleta.
Premier League 2018/19: Manchester United vs West Ham United Tactical Analysis
Lukaku gathers the weighted pass by Pogba, but has only two options in the middle of the pitch. Notice Zabaleta (blue) trailing behind the play.

While this was an effective way to transition the ball up the pitch, it resulted in few clear attacking opportunities as there were few targets in the middle of the pitch. Juan Mata played in the number 10 role behind Lukaku, but he lacked the pace necessary to get forward quickly on the counter-attack. Also, Paul Pogba was working in a midfield pair alongside Fred, meaning he was required to stay in deeper positions to ensure that Manchester United weren’t vulnerable if they lost the ball.

How West Ham attacked

West Ham United were able to attack Manchester United through a variety of methods during this match, and only a lack of clinical finishing meant they lost the match.

Premier League 2018/19: Manchester United vs West Ham United Tactical Analysis
Attack zones for Manchester United vs West Ham United.

One of their primary methods of attack came down the left side, with Manuel Lanzini, Robert Snodgrass and Arthur Masuaku combining well to overwhelm Manchester United in the wide area. Jesse Lingard defended very narrow, and this allowed Masuaku to get forward unmarked and overload the wide areas. As we can see in the images below, Fred and Lingard are both very narrow, and this leaves Diogo Dalot by himself trying to contend with Lanzini and Masuaku.

Premier League 2018/19: Manchester United vs West Ham United Tactical Analysis
The left side of West Ham’s attack, with Lingard (red) defending narrowly. Masuaku and Lanzini overload Dalot.
Premier League 2018/19: Manchester United vs West Ham United Tactical Analysis
Crosses by West Ham.

Additionally, West Ham committed to counter-attacking with numbers. Robert Snodgrass and the wide players were often left higher up the pitch to support Javier Hernández, and this allowed the Hammers to attack with numbers when they recovered the ball. As we can see in the image below, West Ham are breaking on a disorganised United backline with four attackers.

Premier League 2018/19: Manchester United vs West Ham United Tactical Analysis
West Ham committed numbers to counter-attacking, creating a 4v5 situation against United defenders.

On the right side of West Ham’s attack, Pablo Zabaleta got high up the pitch to join in the attack throughout the first half. After half-time, Pellegrini adjusted for Zabaleta to stay deeper to close down the runs that Lukaku was making in behind him.

As a result, when the ball was wide on the right, it was left to Mark Noble to move into a wide area and provide the overlapping runs for Felipe Anderson. We can see in the image below that Zabaleta is holding a supporting position in the midfield, while Noble provides the overlap.

Premier League 2018/19: Manchester United vs West Ham United Tactical Analysis
Mark Noble (blue) moves wide to overload Marcos Rojo in the wide area.


This was an extremely open match that West Ham should have taken more from. Manchester United created chances that they struggled to covert. Two foolish fouls by West Ham in the penalty area allowed Manchester Untied to steal three points and keep their hopes alive for Champions League football.

While the dropped points don’t do much damage to West Ham, as they are safe from relegation without challenging for Europe next season, Manuel Pellegrini has got to be disappointed that his side couldn’t get their first victory at Old Trafford since 2007.

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