The evening ended in as much chaos as it had started for Manchester United. The behavior of a group of West Ham fans might have cast a shadow on the Red Devils’ arrival for Upton Park’s last ever fixture, but they had nobody but themselves to blame for the 3-2 defeat that leaves them relying on favors if they are to be a Champions League team next season.
Anthony Martial aside, there was far too little on show from United to suggest that this is a side worthy of finishing in the top four. The Frenchman side-footed into an empty net after great play by Juan Mata to grab a second-half equalizer before putting United ahead with 18 minutes to go when duping first Winston Reid and then Darren Randolph to slam home.
But Louis van Gaal will be asked pertinent questions about his squad’s qualities after a game in which its soft underbelly was uncovered for the umpteenth time this season. Beyond star-buy Martial and a decent midfield performance from Wayne Rooney, United had nothing to offer. The lack of quality says much about the Dutchman’s transfer decisions but also about his reign as a whole.
Manchester United was deservedly behind at halftime having taken around 35 minutes to get anywhere close to the pace of the game. By then Diafra Sakho had slid West Ham ahead and Michail Antonio had had a header ruled out after the ball had momentarily gone out of play in the build-up. In total in the first half the Hammers had 10 efforts at goal to United’s one, and that was a wild strike by Rooney which was as high as it was wide.
After Michael Carrick entered for the hugely disappointing Morgan Schneiderlin at the break, United gained a foothold. Martial’s double was a masterclass in counter-attacking football and appeared to have given the visitors a lead in the Champions League race. But every time they were attacked in the air at the back they looked in danger, and it came as little surprise that they were punished first by Antonio and then by Reid.
Van Gaal admitted in his pre-match press conference that the lack of height in his side was a concern and West Ham sure made it pay when the Hammers needed to. Quite how Antonio Valencia ended up being yards behind Antonio as the big fullback equalized is anyone’s guess, while Daley Blind’s timidity in challenging Reid was a glaring shortfall.
The Red Devils didn’t have the stomach for the fight in the early exchanges, and in the last 20 minutes they were lacking the simple ability to defend high balls, to stick their bodies on the line for the colleagues and for the badge. Every time West Ham attacked, United looked frail.
United is not entirely out of the picture. It still has Bournemouth to play at Old Trafford on Sunday, but now has to hope that Swansea City sees off Manchester City in their simultaneous kick-off at the Liberty Stadium.
In reality, though, Manchester United’s best hope has gone. After a season in which it has been given a host of second chances, it has been left begging for another one on the final day of the campaign. On this showing, the Red Devils don’t deserve one.