Manchester United force replay as Martial cancels out Payet stunner
MANCHESTER -- Three points on Manchester United 1-1 West Ham in the FA Cup quarterfinals.
Martial keeps United alive
West Ham United's rise was halted by Anthony Martial on Sunday, and it meant Manchester United's troubled season is alive for the moment.
Much of this 1-1 draw revolved around two players who have leapt to supreme levels this term. Dimitri Payet's perfect 68th-minute free kick had seemed to propel Slaven Bilic's side and ensure Louis van Gaal's likely last season at Old Trafford ends without a trophy, only for Martial to equalise with seven minutes to go.
By that point, the stadium was rocking and the game had come alive, after what had previously been a disjointed match that said so much about both sides and where they are right now. It may well be that West Ham are a better side than England's most successful club right now.
Bilic may possess the best player of the two squads, too. Payet made a case for that with a quite luscious free kick. Reflecting the patchiness of the game, though, this was not one of his best displays. He had been quiet until he caused a lot of noise from the home crowd on the hour. Having already been booked, Payet went down under an attempted challenge from Marcos Rojo in the box. There seemed very slight contact, but also a dive from the West Ham forward. Referee Martin Atkinson merely waved play on.
So Payet stayed on and then stepped up for that supreme free kick that he had won. Very few players can beat David De Gea from 35 yards and as Payet started his run-up, it seemed a waste to even try. Not so. His effort couldn't have been better. The ball went as far wide of De Gea as possible and the ball bounced in off the post.
United finally raised their game and could have had a penalty after Winston Reid handled in the area. With Bastian Schweinsteiger now on the pitch for Marouane Fellaini, they were finally putting moves together, and the only question was why they hadn't started like this.
Martial, meanwhile, provided the response necessary. After Schweinsteiger had got in front of goalkeeper Darren Randolph as Ander Herrera played a ball across, Martial darted in for the equaliser.
The game goes to a replay, but neither manager will want too many replays of some of the problems evident in this game for both their sides.
Fellaini sums United issues
For a manager whose career has been based on dogmatic adherence to technical possession, it is remarkable that so many of the issues with Van Gaal's brief United career have been personified by Fellaini, a player completely unsuited to that style.
There are were cheers when the Belgian was eventually taken off, and while that might be harsh on a player who can never be accused of laziness or not trying, it's hard to escape the reality that his uncoordinated chaos so infringes the team's overall play.
That is never more evident than in attack and was summed up repeatedly in the first half. There were so many occasions when United would be steadily building a move, only for no one to thrust forward other than Fellaini, and a full-back having to resort to pumping it up to his head in ultimately futile fashion.
At the other end, the lack of proper structure in midfield meant West Ham were able to repeatedly surge through the middle of the pitch. It was from such space that the goal eventually came, as Payet was fouled in an area where a properly organised midfield would deny space. It might have been different had Morgan Schneiderlin -- despite his recent underperformance -- was on the pitch.
None of this is to solely use Fellaini as a scapegoat. United have so many bigger problems.
For the moment, though, they also have the magnificence of Martial.
West Ham's missed opportunity
One of the traits of West Ham's season has been a consistent capacity to play to the level of the opposition -- explaining so many big wins going hand in hand with so many underwhelming performances to inferior opposition. Given the home side's troubles this year, though, it's hard to know what this was.
West Ham were oddly disjointed. They didn't offer the cohesion or complete game plan of previous fine results against big sides. It was as if Bilic didn't quite have a United game plan to react to.
The most identifiable trait was getting the full-backs -- and particularly Aaron Cresswell, who put in yet another fine performance -- space to cross for strikers so curiously unopposed in the United box. West Ham could really have made so much more than that, but that they were unopposed didn't really seem to matter, especially not to Emmanuel Emenike.
In the 17th minute, he feebly headed at De Gea. The Spaniard has kept United in so many games this season with some spectacular stops, but this didn't need to be anything of the sort. Emenike had the time and space to decide whether he wanted to go for power or precision, but opted for poverty of quality. His tame header was straight into De Gea's hands from yards out.
It might have been different had it been Andy Carroll, who had earlier powered a header from further out not too far over.
Either way, West Ham weren't really getting going and couldn't get Payet into the game.
He put himself into it with that supreme free kick, but the performance of neither he nor the team hit previous levels.
Miguel Delaney is a London-based correspondent for ESPN FC and also writes for the Irish Examiner and others. Follow him on Twitter @MiguelDelaney.