Manchester United made the perfect start to 2017, as second-half goals from Juan Mata and Zlatan Ibrahimovic earned Jose Mourinho’s men an important victory over 10-man West Ham United on Monday evening.
Despite an early red card for Hammers midfielder Sofiane Feghouli, the Reds were made to wait for the breakthrough, which eventually came when Marcus Rashford set up fellow substitute Mata inside the area with just under half an hour remaining.
Ibrahimovic added a second strike with 12 minutes to go, firing into the corner after confusion in the West Ham defence, to claim his 17th goal of the season and seal a sixth straight Premier League win.
Ahead of the game – the first between the sides at West Ham’s new home, London Stadium – Jose Mourinho made five changes to the side that came from behind to beat Middlesbrough on New Year’s Eve, with defensive trio Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo and Matteo Darmian among those recalled to the team.
Behind them, David De Gea was making his 250th appearance for the club, and had to make an early save, diving across his goal to tip Manuel Lanzini’s 20-yard effort around the post.
The game’s pivotal moment came just five minutes later, when Feghouli slid into a 50-50 challenge on the edge of the visitors’ area, colliding with Jones. After some deliberation, referee Mike Dean dismissed the West Ham man, and while replays suggested the punishment may have been harsh, it gave the Reds a one-man advantage for the remaining 75 minutes nonetheless.
As expected, the red card left Slaven Bilic’s side in need of a huge defensive effort and, to their credit, the home side restricted the Reds to few sights of goal in the first half.
It wasn’t until the 35th minute that a real opportunity came United’s way, and it was one that should have resulted in an opener. Ibrahimovic found Henrikh Mkhitaryan at the far post, and the Armenian crossed for Antonio Valencia, whose effort was denied by Darren Randolph. When the ball fell kindly for Jesse Lingard, his shot came back off the post, allowing the West Ham keeper to recover.
It was a missed chance that Mourinho’s men almost came to regret at the end of the half, when Lanzini again forced De Gea into action, finding half a yard before curling a shot towards the corner. Instead, United’s no.1 clawed the ball to safety, leaving the game finely poised going into the break.
Possession: West Ham 36% United 64%
Shots at goal: West Ham 5 United 3
Shots on target: West Ham 1 United 1
Corners: West Ham 2 United 0
Mourinho made an attacking substitution at the interval, as Mata replaced Darmian. The change saw Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba operating as a midfield two, just in front of stand-in captain Carrick, who moved to centre-back.
It was West Ham, though, who fashioned the first chance of the second half, as Michail Antonio rose to meet Dimitri Payet’s free-kick but couldn’t make a proper connection. The former then had an even better opportunity with half an hour remaining, after being played through on goal by Lanzini, but was denied by the legs of De Gea.
The save would prove key, too, as United took the lead just three minutes later. Rashford – on as a substitute for Lingard – showed great awareness to beat two defenders before playing a neat pass inside for Mata, who unleashed a powerful shot which sailed past Randolph and into the net.
With the Hammers’ resistance finally broken, the Reds went in search of an immediate second, as Pogba curled an effort narrowly wide from the edge of the area, before going close with a similar shot on 74 minutes.
It didn’t take United long to increase the advantage, however, and put the result beyond doubt. This time, Herrera’s blocked shot fell at the feet of Ibrahimovic, who beat the offside trap amid uncertainty in the box, to provide a precise finish past Randolph.
The goal capped what was a patient and professional display in East London, and one which leaves United hot on the heels of the other top-four contenders.
Possession: West Ham 36% United 64%
Shots at goal: West Ham 8 United 12
Shots on target: West Ham 2 United 6
Corners: West Ham 2 United 1
West Ham: Randolph; Nordtveit, Reid, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Obiang, Kouyate (Fernandes 82); Feghouli, Lanzini (Ayew 89), Payet (Carroll 69); Antonio.
Subs not used: Adrian, Noble, Quina, Fletcher.
Booked: Payet, Nordtveit.
Sent off: Feghouli