Manchester United’s Champions League fate is still in their hands but there were signs of fatigue in their 1-1 draw with West Ham
By Adam Bate and Nick Wright
Last Updated: 22/07/20 9:43pm
First, the context.
Manchester United’s 1-1 draw with West Ham at Old Trafford was enough to move Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side up to third in the table.
And the result extends their unbeaten run in the Premier League to 13 games and ensures that a draw with Leicester on the final day will guarantee Champions League football next season.
All good then? Not quite. After United’s insipid display against Chelsea in exiting the FA Cup at the weekend, this was not the swaggering return to form that supporters anticipated.
A convincing win over David Moyes’ West Ham could have all-but taken Leicester out of the equation. A repeat of the three-goal victories that United achieved in four consecutive games recently – against Sheffield United, Brighton, Bournemouth and Aston Villa – would have left Brendan Rodgers’ side needing to beat them by two clear goals on Sunday.
Instead, even the narrowest of defeats could now see United fall short.
“If you had said to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer a few months ago this would be the situation going into the last game he would have snapped your hand off,” Gary Neville told Sky Sports.
“I think that is what he will be telling himself and the players over the next 72 hours. They are still in a really good position, one they could never have imagined at times this season.
“That is the positive. The negative is that they have just hit a little dip. They look really flat where they have looked really good since this restart.
“The last couple of games have been poor – lacking in energy, urgency and quality.”
Anthony Martial fed Mason Greenwood for the crucial equaliser that at least ensures that a draw will be enough for Manchester United at the weekend. Greenwood, still just 18, blasted home his 17th goal of the season with his now characteristic assurance.
The problem was that everyone behind them appeared to be having an off day. United’s form before Sunday’s meeting with Chelsea showed the benefits of a settled line-up, but a lack of rotation carries risks and it certainly seems as though the players are tiring.
Paul Pogba was the culprit for West Ham’s goal – conceding a penalty when he pushed away Declan Rice’s fierce shot with his hands rather than taking risk-free evasive action.
But there were more troubling issues than Pogba’s lack of gumption in that moment. The midfielder played much of the game at walking pace – and he still played better than Marcus Rashford. The England forward was well short of his best all evening.
Fernandes feeling effects of busy schedule
But no player typified United’s weariness quite like Bruno Fernandes.
The Portuguese has been the inspiration behind the side’s improvement in the second half of the season, but he looked jaded at Wembley on Sunday and it was the same story at Old Trafford three days later.
As against Chelsea, there were occasional flashes of his quality. But overall, he did not assert himself on the game in the way that we have come to expect. He only attempted one shot on goal – a big drop on his previous average of 3.5 per 90 minutes – and rarely threatened to unpick the visitors’ defence.
There were uncharacteristically sloppy touches and frequent groans of frustration, and he even lost his temper in the closing stages, receiving a yellow card following a clash with West Ham’s Mark Noble.
Fernandes looked exhausted by that point. And while Premier League tracking data shows he covered plenty of ground – his total of 11.8km was in fact higher than any of his United team-mates – it also reveals that he only registered five high-intensity sprints, having averaged 13 per 90 minutes in United’s other Premier League games since the restart.
It is hardly surprising that Fernandes is showing signs of tiredness.
The 25-year-old, new to the frantic toing and froing of the Premier League having only arrived from Sporting Lisbon in January, has started every one of United’s 10 games since the restart. In fact, he has started 18 of a possible 19 games since his debut for the club in February.
There is little prospect of a breather yet, either. United now have only three days to prepare for their meeting with Leicester at the King Power Stadium. And this result against West Ham ensures they do not have the luxury of easing up. With the conclusion of the Europa League to come after that, United must hope that Fernandes can find a second wind from somewhere.
Watch Leicester vs Man United live on Sky Sports on the final day of the Premier League season on Sunday; Kick-off 4pm
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Source : Sky Sports