David De Gea’s error and Manchester United’s fragility allow Liverpool back into the battle for Europe
Whether Manchester United felt the pressure of Liverpool breathing down their necks, or simply showed the effects of a long season, the lacklustre 1-0 defeat at West Ham capped off a dismal week for Erik Ten Hag’s side.
Both sides had unenviable records going into the match, with West Ham not having beaten any of the traditional ‘big six’ clubs this season, while the visitors have continuously struggled on the road.
United’s defeat will undoubtedly bring cheers on the red half of Merseyside but has also handed West Ham’s hopes of remaining in the top flight a significant boost sending them seven points clear of the relegation zone.
Sir Alex Ferguson might have announced his decision to retire as Manchester United manager 10 years ago on Monday, but the side that travelled to the London Stadium on the weekend of the coronation were a far cry from his title-winning teams.
In fact, it was a catastrophic error from David De Gea, one of the few players to have remained from the glory days of Ferguson’s era, who handed the home side the lead.
The goalkeeper dived down for what should have been a routine stop to deny a tame effort from Said Benrahma, but instead merely tipped the ball into the back of the net.
While the mistake was costly, it does not excuse Manchester United’s slightly flat and frustrated performance, against a West Ham side who were always going to give everything in their battle to further distance themselves from the bottom three.
At the start, Manchester United did not appear to be reeling from their last-gasp defeat at Brighton on the south coast on Thursday, but were forced to resort to shots from distance and had limited possession in the final third.
They had two opportunities inside the first 10 minutes with both Bruno Fernandes and Antony firing wide, and Christian Eriksen unable to keep a curled effort down as it flew over the bar, but that was their brightest spell.
After going ahead courtesy of De Gea’s error, West Ham could rightly feel aggrieved they were not handed an opportunity to double their advantage on the stroke of half time.
A ball across the box from Benrahma appeared to strike the arm of Victor Lindelof, but instead of consulting VAR, referee Peter Bankes blew for half time, to the confusion of pundits and BT Sport’s on-hand former referee Peter Walton.
De Gea was handed a reprieve in the second half, when he failed to claim a delivery which was hooked into the back of the net by Michail Antonio, but the assistant referee ruled out the goal, which would have put victory firmly in the sights of the Hammers.
West Ham had the ball in the back of the net for a third time, but Tomas Soucek was offside, as they continued to push against a side who remain just four points ahead of Liverpool with a game in hand.
There were further echoes of Ferguson’s legacy when the fourth official held up an additional eight minutes at the end of the match, but unlike certain historic victories and comebacks, West Ham held on.
United’s concern will remain with the fact that they started the week seven games ahead of their rivals, with two games more to play than Jurgen Klopp’s side.