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The Red Devils were woeful for the majority of the match and struggled to create chances until a late flurry of positive play in the final few moments ended with substitutes Edinson Cavani and Rashford combining to seal three points which strengthen their challenge for a spot in next season’s Champions League.
West Ham had defended strongly throughout, reducing United to pot shots from distance in the second-half, until the final couple of minutes of play when their positioning in the penalty area went awry and space began to open up for the home side.
David Moyes will be furious that his team, who had looked the more likely side to score in the final quarter of the game, have thrown away an opportunity to extend or at least maintain their advantage over United.
Here are five things we learned from a dramatic match at Old Trafford.
Rashford has a springboard to find his old form
It is easy to forget, thanks to both his longevity in the Manchester United eleven and his activism away from football, just how young Marcus Rashford is.
At only 24 he has scored 93 goals for the club he grew up supporting as a boy and has the kind of finishing ability, burst of pace and positioning nous that give him the foundations to be one of the best forwards in world football.
Good form has eluded him so far this season and he has cut a disappointed figure in recent weeks, but a later winner here, regardless of how simple the finish may have been, can be a springboard to re-launch his influence on the side.
Rangnick’s United are still no better than Solskjaer’s
Ralf Rangnick had only spent two seasons out of the previous ten directly coaching football teams before replacing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at the end of 2021, and we might be starting to find out why.
The job the German has been brought in to do is tough, sure, but United have not improved in any way, shape or form since his predecessor was sacked. Considering how poor the club’s performances were under latter-day Solskjaer, that is a damning indictment of Rangnick’s influence so far on a team which suffers exactly the same problems as before.
United still seem to have no coherent attacking strategy beyond getting into the final third and seeing what happens, it is still far too easy for an opponent to break at pace through the midfield pivot of Scott McTominay and Fred, and they are still papering over the cracks with eye-catching late wins against teams they should be beating long before stoppage-time.
They may have just about won here in the end but if this is the kind of performance United are going to continue to put in under Rangnick, then they will be no better off come the season’s end and his departure to the boardroom than they were under Solskjaer.
United should lose Ronaldo this summer
Throughout the entire ninety minutes Cristiano Ronaldo encapsulated that everything that has been wrong with his performances since returning to Old Trafford.
The Portuguese stood idle in between Kurt Zouma and Craig Dawson, offering precious little movement on the rare occasions United sought to break at speed, and spent three or four elongated periods arguing with the officials about decisions which had, correctly, gone against him.
A return of five goals in his last 15 Premier League appearances is a pretty meagre total for a player receiving the kind of ludicrous salary Ronaldo is and who possesses that level of talent, and once again his mere presence on the pitch stunted the efficacy of the likes of Bruno Fernandes and Mason Greenwood.
Match-winner Rashford, an enormously talented local-born player who has the best years of his career ahead of him, is the kind of forward United should be building their attack around but instead he and his colleagues are forced to water carry for a forward who has no interest in doing anything other than loitering around the penalty spot hoping for a chance to be served up on a plate by a colleague so that he can take the glory.
The contract Ronaldo was given last summer, which still has two-and-a-half years left to run, was another dreadful piece of decision making by the United hierarchy. If they can somehow convince somebody to take him off their hands this summer, they should let him go at the drop of a hat.
West Ham need another forward
Michail Antonio has been a revelation in attack for West Ham since he was moved to the middle from the right-hand side a few seasons back, using a combination of great movement, strong finishing and restlessness to irritate central defenders and score a glut of important goals.
Here, though, he was unable to influence the game during a quiet performance in which Harry Maguire and Raphael Varane managed him well.
Players have off days, that’s a given. West Ham’s issue, though, is that they have no real alternative to Antonio down the middle. Andriy Yarmolenko was their only attacking option on the bench with Said Benrahma still away after taking part in the Africa Cup of Nations with Algeria, and that meant they were unable to change anything in an attempt to take advantage of the counter-attacks they were launching in the second-half, most commonly through the impressive Jarrod Bowen.
The Hammers need a stronger attacking option off the bench if they are to avoid losing points in similar circumstances in future.
Declan Rice has everything United need in midfield
This was far from the strongest performance of Declan Rice’s season so far, but the England international still showed glimpses of the kind of qualities which make him one of the very best midfielders in the country.
He nipped the ball off the toes of Bruno Fernandes early doors to set off a fast West Ham attack, demonstrated a strong range of long passing when trying to move his side up the pitch, and talked his dominated the middle of the park in a two-vs-two battle.
His ability to affect matches in both penalty areas and to progress his team up the pitch is something United could do with in their system, but whether Rice is attainable in the near future is far from certain.