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Dec 212013

Manchester United 3-1 West Ham United
Manchester Uniteds Adnan 006 Never More Cleverley!One thing is for sure. Having been in charge at Everton for over a decade, David Moyes will not let United’s ridiculously easy victory over West Ham United go to his head. Even though the newspapers and bloss are full of prognostications insisting that Manchester United’s crisis of confidence is over, common sense says that having the juju to meet four mediocre sides in a row just before the transfer window does not mean the fat lady is about to sing. Don’t get me wrong. Four straight wins in different competitions with only one goal conceded is nice. Still, a way past-it Carlton Cole’s ability to drift through United’s pathetic back four’s comedy version of the offside trap as Chris Smalling and a particularly gormless Alexander Büttner stood there shrugging at each other definitely gave food for thought. Any notions that posit Jonny Evans as the new Vidic or Ferdinand are ridiculous. Papering over the problems Gaffer-style, with string and glue, may or may not work. Making it into the top four of the EPL is possible. Nicking the Capital One or FA Cup is possible. Reaching the last four of the ECC would be awesome. We still own the same problems, however. Confidence-building matches against Hull City and Norwich will help, too. Nevertheless, the overweight diva has not opened her big gob yet!

The New Year’s home game versus Tottenham Hotspur will be a perfect acid test for Moyes’ tactics and the desperate wishes of Ashley Young, Anderson, Rio Ferdinand, Alexander Büttner, Nani and Tom Cleverley to stick around.

Tom Cleverley is becoming a conundrum within a conundrum. Repeatedly found to be both physically and psychologically ill-equipped for the better part of two-and-a-half seasons, Cleverley, close enough to smell the blood off the guillotine blade and envisage what the rest of his career might be like wearing a Stoke City or West Bromwich Albion kit, has temporarily fought his way out of a stupor of narcissistic self-pity. Indeed, only one minute into the game, his splendid little rising snap shot was saved gloriously by the Hammers’ custodian, Adrían. Sharp enough to avoid the primitive tackling of Mark Noble and avoid West Ham’s Yaya-Lite, Mo Diamé, Cleverley ran and ran all night, firing off pass after pass, which, although they didn’t always find their intended mark, were full of mustard and vigor. His was just one of many displays of confident mastery unleashed against an overmatched West Ham team by the Yorkshireman, a returning Wayne Rooney and United’s new Boy Wonder, Adnan Januzaj.

Subdued in a good way, Rooney sat back, sprayed passes hither and thither and seemed more like a zen cross between an Anglo-Irish Buddha and Andrea Pirlo than the older image of the Great White Hope of an Ingerland striker willing to take the futile job of wearing Alan Shearer’s mantle. Always a danger and a relentless distraction for West Ham’s poor back four, Wazza repeatedly set the table for the energetic juggernaut which was Valencia, Welbeck and Januzaj. Always dropping back in search of the ball before distributing it with what seems like a new low-pulse confidence, Rooney finally may be on the verge of the true greatness that may put him up on the plynth with likes of Bobby Charlton and George Best.

Was this the same central midfield–Cleverley and Phil Jones–which Newcastle had so effortlessly humiliated? Mediocre opposition to be sure, but clearly both were spunky and resilient, both making solo runs again and again. And after Jones let loose with a cannonball which pulled another fine save from Adrián, with the game already ebbing away, Cleverley was twice hit with cheap shots by McCartney and Noble. Such behavior has shredded Cleverley’s nerve previously. More intent on appealing to the referee’s sense of mercy than playing the game, Cleverley has repeatedly been an embarrassment. Not so tonight, however.

71897250 020413585 1 Never More Cleverley!Indeed, it was a Cleverley pass that led to the first goal in the 26th minute after he found Welbeck who in turn found Rooney with a clever flick. What followed, an exquisite, superbly weighted little gem of a return, set up a sprinting Welbeck just in time to avoid the offside trap and let loose with a perfectly accurate left-footer past Adrián.

Ten minutes later, after Januzaj was cheated out of a penalty when Mark Noble clearly got away with a body barge in the box, we saw just how ruthless and resiliant our baby-faced assassin really is. Seconds later, with the Hammers reeling, Januzaj hovered up a pass from Welbeck, casually humiliating McCartney while switching feet, before dragging the ball backward to make a space and firing past Adrían. Gorgeous! It was a sweet moment of inspiration, but has to be tempered by an awareness that the young winger is beginning to acquire a reputation for going to ground, like his teammate Ashley Young. While it wasn’t actually a dive in the 43rd minute, Januzaj got himself booked by the referee Mike Jones for an over-theatrical fall after avoiding a meaty challenge by Collins. Seconds later, Valencia, after setting himself up with a sweet-looking one-two with Rafael da Silva, blasted a perfect chance over the bar at point-blank range.

The visitors looked a little better in the second half, even it was only because they heightened the intimidation factor by upping the ante on the number of brazen fouls committed on Cleverley and Welbeck. United made a patient wait of it until the 72nd minute when Ashley Young, goalless for eighteen months till last Wednesday in the Capital One Cup against Stoke, did it again as Rooney refrained from taking his own shot in the middle of the box, shifting it to Young who rocketed home.

Although Moyes screeched at his players for bollixing up the offside trap as the Hammers caught them with too many men upfield nine minutes from time, their relentlessness of attacking purpose on the day surely has to be applauded. For Carlton Cole, dumped by his club in the Summer, then brought back when no other strikers could be found, it was surely a moment of happy irony. The big, lumbering Cole picked up a desperate clearance by Diamé from his own box, and, kept onside by substitute Alexander Büttner, raced clear of the flat-footed triumvirate of Evra, Evans and Smalling, before calmly slotting the ball home through an advancing David de Gea’s legs.

Now just a point off the relegation zone, West Ham have only won just two of their last 16 Premier League matches, a run that has included nine defeats. Was this the team that has beaten Tottenham Hotspur twice handily?

Meanwhile, at the post-match press conference, David Moyes was all business: “We played well today. I’m a wee bit disappointed we didn’t take some more opportunities and I was disappointed not to keep a clean sheet. The job is to keep our head down and keep winning games.”
Adnan Januzaj 2772824b Never More Cleverley!

Ivor Irwin

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