Having ended 2016 with an impressive run of form with five league wins in a row, Manchester United looked to kick off 2017 by grabbing a sixth in their visit to West Ham’s London Stadium. With just two days passed since their last match, United needed to make changes to the starting lineup, five of them, in fact. Most came in defence, with Antonio Valencia the only player to start both this and Saturday’s matches in defence.
The controversial decision to send off West Ham’s Sofiane Feghouli after a challenge on Phil Jones inside 15 minutes was the key point of the first half. Despite the numerical advantage, United could not convincingly take charge of the game. A major chance to take the lead was missed when both Valencia and Jesse Lingard missed an open goal.
Jose Mourinho’s substitutions were effective in turning the game United’s way in the second half. Juan Mata’s introduction after the break helped the flow of the ball, yet was not yet enough to create the chances necessary. Then the substitution of Jesse Lingard for Marcus Rashford kicked United into high gear.
After just five minutes of entering the field of play, Rashford took the ball down the left-wing, blows past defenders before cutting the ball back for fellow substitute Mata to finish with aplomb. United doubled the lead later on after Ander Herrera wins the ball back on the edge of the area, the chance falling to Zlatan Ibrahimovic to smash in to seal the result.
Rashford was involved in the thick of the action following his introduction apart from his assist. He created chances for both Paul Pogba and Herrera from the left flank, with neither midfielder managing to convert. He also had a decent crack at goal, with his attempt nearly squirming away from Darren Randolph and across the line. Rashford was also consistently pressing the West Ham defence to win back the ball high up the pitch.
His pace and direct running was a major threat for West Ham. Lingard, who occupied the position before he came on, rarely attempted to beat his man, adding to the stale possession control of the first half. Rashford flipped that completely, always ready to take on a defender or two, and chances was created at the end of it as a result.
With this victory, United are currently on a run of eleven unbeaten matches unbeaten, a record not seen since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, with six straight league wins to put pressure on their fellow challengers for Champions League football. And none of that would have happened without Rashford’s game-changing performance.