Alejandro Garnacho scored twice as Manchester United eased themselves to a 3-0 victory over West Ham at Old Trafford.
Erik ten Hag’s side have now gone five games unbeaten for the first time this season and enjoyed a largely — if not entirely — comfortable afternoon to contrast with the unmitigated drama of their 4-3 win at Wolves on Thursday.
Teenager Garnacho struck twice in the second half to follow up Rasmus Hojlund’s opener on the striker’s 21st birthday, although United were left to rue an injury suffered by centre-back Lisandro Martinez, who was forced off after 64 minutes.
Mark Critchley breaks down all the major talking points from United’s 12th league win of the season.
United outshot but never out of control
It was not always totally convincing, it was not always totally comfortable, but the scoreline still tells a story. Three points, three goals and only the third Premier League clean sheet at Old Trafford this season.
Manchester United are up to sixth, leapfrogging a West Ham side who will feel that had the ball bounced their way at times, they may be travelling back to east London with a different result.
But even though Erik ten Hag’s side were comfortably outshot by their opponents — with 12 attempts to the visitors’ 22 — they were never outplayed and instead were always clinical enough to take their chances when they came.
That meant that even if this performance did not hit the heights of the first half against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Thursday night, there was not the same loss of control or late drama as there was during the second half at Molineux, either.
Thank Alejandro Garnacho for that. If the first of his two goals took the game away from West Ham, his second made sure of the points. Garnacho has quietly locked down his place on the right wing, looking more natural there than in his more recognised natural left-wing position with every passing game.
Alejandro Garnacho gets a second, Manchester United cruising 🔴✨ pic.twitter.com/MUX6cU4xeA
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) February 4, 2024
Martinez injury a major blow
Manchester United’s tenth different centre-back pairing of the campaign was not looking too bad until Lisandro Martinez’s knee gave way.
Surprisingly, this was the first time that Martinez had lined up alongside Harry Maguire this term and, given the uncertainty over Raphael Varane’s Old Trafford future, the pair were perhaps laying the foundations of a partnership that may have become a fixture during the rest of the campaign.
Varane has shown his worth to United but there are no guarantees over what happens next
That could still happen but the nature of Martinez’s injury was worrying. Despite his best attempts to put on a brave face and suck up the damage caused by a tangle with Vladimir Coufal’s midway through the second half, the battle-hardened centre-back could not carry on.
United have missed Martinez hugely since the recurrence of his foot injury in September and were only just starting to feel the benefit of his composure in possession and ability to play out from the back. No other centre-back in the squad has that ability. No other is perhaps as adept at the more traditional arts of defending, either.
Ten Hag was just getting used to having a nice kind of headache — all four of his best centre-backs fit and available, with Maguire making his first start since December and Victor Lindelof also back in the squad. But now, he may have to make do and mend again, having potentially lost one of his most important players.
Hojlund maturing in front of our eyes
When Rasmus Hojlund was brought off before the hour mark at the London Stadium before Christmas, you worried that his 14-game goal drought in the Premier League could go on for a while longer. Yet it came to an end in his very next outing against Aston Villa.
Hojlund has barely looked back since breaking his duck on Boxing Day and his breakthrough here was his fifth goal in the six games since, and his fourth in his last four.
But there was something especially convincing about this goal — scored on his 21st birthday — compared to his other recent strikes. As he shifted his body weight to beat Nayef Aguerd and arrowed a shot with his weaker foot into the bottom left-hand corner, he looked like a striker coming of age.
That is the difference: the confidence that Hojlund is now exuding. Having never let his head drop during the drought, he is now holding it high.
After speaking enthusiastically at Molineux about his place in a new, younger generation coming through at United, him, Kobbie Mainoo and Alejandro Garnacho sitting on the advertising hoardings in celebration United’s second was a heartwarming sight.
His own still celebrations need a bit of work. After his ecstatic fist pumps while being crushed by Craig Dawson for his goal on Thursday night, this time he played the air guitar on his left leg. But when it comes to celebrations, the important thing is he’s getting more practice at them.
What did Ten Hag say?
We will bring you this after he has spoken at the post-match press conference.
What next for Man Utd?
Saturday, February 11: Aston Villa (A), Premier League, 4.30pm GMT, 11.30am ET
A sterner test of where Ten Hag’s side are right now as they go to face Unai Emery’s energetic Villa, who have lost once at home in the league this season, winning nine of their 11 matches at Villa Park, and demolished Sheffield United 5-0 away yesterday.
(Top photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)