Man Utd finally back up a big win
Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag had prefaced the game against West Ham with a word of warning in his programme notes. “One of our biggest issues this term has been our inability to gain rhythm, and good results have too often been followed by setbacks.”
He would have been thinking of the home win over Chelsea that was followed by a 3-0 Old Trafford defeat to Bournemouth. Or perhaps another occasion in December when United beat Aston Villa only to lose to Nottingham Forest just days later.
In between those results came the unexpected draw at Liverpool that was followed up with defeat at West Ham. But this time it was different. After overcoming Wolves in the 97th minute on Thursday evening, United secured their biggest home win of the season.
The 3-0 win over West Ham was not a dominant display. The opposition had too many shots for that. This five-game unbeaten run in all competitions includes victories over Wigan and Newport in the FA Cup. But caveats aside, there is cause for some optimism.
Able to select what might be his strongest side, Ten Hag will be hopeful of developing the rhythm of which he speaks and the confidence that comes with it. He needs to buy time and results do that. It is Aston Villa away next. Win that and belief really will grow.
Pochettino needs to be fireproof as fans turn up the heat
Mauricio Pochettino knew what he was walking into when he became Chelsea manager, but that does not make it any easier.
Chelsea finished 27 points off the top four in 2022/23, their worst season since the mid-1990s. They are on course to finish just seven points better off this time around.
There is no question Todd Boehly’s spending has been as much of a blessing as a curse for Chelsea, and it has earned Pochettino a great deal more patience than many managers be afforded after losing to Nottingham Forest, Brentford, Everton and now Wolves – twice – in the space of barely half a season.
But a line has been crossed now. One four-goal humbling in a week is bad enough, and Liverpool are not a team any young, inexperienced side wants to face. But losing so heavily at home to a Wolves side who have been crippled by FFP restrictions and who were many pundits’ outside shout for relegation at the start of the season – that is beyond the pale.
For the first time, the fans turned not only on the team but on Pochettino himself. His name was audible around the press box when his players trudged off at half-time, and not through messages of support. There were barely enough fans left at Stamford Bridge come the full-time whistle to give him any more abuse.
Chelsea are awful in both boxes. Judging by xG deficit, they have the second-most wasteful strike force in the league. They have now shipped 39 goals this season – more than the combined tally of Jose Mourinho’s back-to-back league winners of 2004/05 and 2005/06.
There is talent in this team. But there is no collective. Individual quality will not paper over the cracks of a lack of wider cohesion. Pochettino is far from the only one at fault for that. But he is the one who will carry the can if things do not improve quickly, because Stamford Bridge is already turning toxic. It is only going to get worse.
Lack of belief costs West Ham
This was quite an odd game. Manchester United cruised to a 3-0 win and at no point looked like they would lose against West Ham, yet were dominated in the shots and expected goals categories and allowed their visitors nearly 50 per cent of the possession.
Despite that, Andre Onana was only forced into one notable save – and that came in the 11th minute. West Ham’s best chances fell to Emerson, their left-back.
The Hammers were still in the game until another Kalvin Phillips error set up Man Utd’s third goal late on, yet they never made a concerted effort to put pressure on their hosts.
Perhaps that’s not surprising when you look at David Moyes’ record at Old Trafford – he has failed to win in 17 Premier League games as the visiting manager.
Remarkably, the only manager to endure a longer run without winning at a Premier League ground is also Moyes, at both Anfield and Stamford Bridge.
Did he, or his team, believe they could win? The fact they played the entire game without a No 9 and chose to leave Danny Ings on the bench was curious.
After a bright first half of the season, West Ham have failed to win in their first six games of 2024. Their hard work is in danger of being undone.
Forest show signs they have enough to get out of trouble
There was conviction in Nuno Espirito Santo’s voice when he responded to being asked whether Nottingham Forest should have taken more than a point from their trip to the south coast in a post-match interview at the Vitality. “Yes, it could have been more,” he said.
This was not just a manager with a biased view of his own team. Forest gradually grew after going behind, with all five of their shots in Dorset hitting their intended target. Bournemouth were the Premier League’s form side throughout November and December and they were left limited, particularly after the break.
Had they been able to capitalise on Philip Billing’s late red card for cynically catching Callum Hudson-Odoi on the Achilles, there probably wouldn’t have been a huge volume of complaints.
The point they earned moved them a further point clear of the relegation zone. It has given them a temporary reprieve, even though Brentford above them and Luton below them still have games in hand. Those are matters for another day, though.
By no means does this team look like they are prepared to accept their precarious position. There’s plenty of post-Steve Cooper confidence, new signings still to be bedded and players yet to return from AFCON to bolster the numbers.
Take that and the fact Luton having stunned Brighton in midweek and held Newcastle to a 4-4 draw on Saturday, there’s extra pressure on the clubs at the bottom to up their game to avoid getting left behind.