Paul Pogba converted two penalties either side of half-time to lift Manchester United to an unconvincing 2-1 win over West Ham at Old Trafford on Saturday.
Star man Pogba beat Lukasz Fabianski for the second time in the 80th minute to snatch just a second victory in six competitive games that sends Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side back to within two points of the Premier League’s top four.
West Ham had been on top after Felipe Anderson cancelled out Pogba’s first-half opener and substitute Michail Antonio twice went close to giving them a late lead.
But, following Ryan Fredericks’ panicked challenge on Anthony Martial in the box, Pogba’s second penalty ensured the hosts rebounded from Wednesday’s 1-0 loss to Barcelona and can look ahead to the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie next week with renewed optimism.
The hosts quickly made the reprieve count.
Robert Snodgrass clumsily tripped Juan Mata just inside the box and Pogba, eschewing his usual stuttering run-up for a conventional approach, sent Lukasz Fabianski the wrong way.
West Ham continued to show positive intent and there was no denying Felipe Anderson in the 49th minute, the Brazilian ghosting in at the far post and tucking away Manuel Lanzini’s cross.
Marcus Rashford was hastily introduced and he forced Fabianski into a one-handed save before nodding over at close range.
Antonio rattled the crossbar at the other end before David de Gea brilliantly denied the Hammers winger a minute later.
In the end it was Pogba who had the final say, the France midfielder dispatching the winner after Fredericks, on as a substitute three minutes earlier, scythed down Martial as the winger shaped to shoot.
What does it mean? Red Devils remain in top-four tussle
Advancing to the Champions League semi-finals is a tall order for Solskjaer’s men, so qualification for that competition next season appears to hinge on doing the job domestically.
Pogba moves past penalty hiccups
We have surely now seen the last of the bizarre Pogba penalty technique that has attracted plenty of criticism.
The World Cup winner showed maturity in twice converting from 12 yards and was the decisive factor behind United’s second victory in the four games Solskjaer has overseen since his appointment as manager on a permanent basis.
Marcos Rojo, starting as a result of Luke Shaw’s suspension, had only one man to mark when Lanzini delivered his enticing cross shortly after the interval.
The left-back failed the examination – allowing an unmarked Felipe Anderson to equalise – and it was not his only defensively suspect moment of a performance that is set to force him straight back out of the starting XI.
Key Opta Facts
– Manchester United are unbeaten in 14 Premier League home games (W9 D5) since a 3-0 loss against Tottenham in August. Only Liverpool (37) and Arsenal (16) are currently on longer unbeaten runs at home in the competition.
– West Ham are winless in their last eight Premier League away games (D1 L7), losing the last four in a row.
– Manchester United have won a league-high 12 Premier League penalties this season. Indeed, it is also the most the Red Devils have ever taken in a single campaign in the competition.
– West Ham had 18 shots in this match, their most in a Premier League away game since December 2016 (24 versus Leicester).
United have barely any time to rest in the lead-up to their make-or-break date with Barca at Camp Nou, which comes before Sunday’s excursion to Everton.
West Ham return to action next Saturday as they host Leicester City. courtesy:goal.com