By Darren Richman
The London Stadium still doesn't feel like a football ground
Much has been written about West Ham United's new home in the last few months but the visit of Manchester United did much to support club legend Billy Bonds' view that "the pitch is like an island out in the middle".
Upton Park was a notoriously difficult place for the visitors, the home fans viewing the rivalry as one of their most significant. Under Sir Alex Ferguson, the Old Trafford outfit were twice thwarted late in the season with the league title on the line and, as recently as May, in the final game at the ground, Louis van Gaal's United were beaten 3-2 and the slim hope of qualifying for the Champions League all but vanished.
On a contentious afternoon in East London, where Sofiane Feghouli saw red early on for a challenge on Phil Jones that seemed a yellow at worst, the supporters were compelled to boo the defender all evening and ironically cheer Mike Dean when a decision went the hosts' way but little else.
At their previous home, where the fans were so close to the action, the atmosphere would likely have reached fever pitch on a day like this. In a stadium designed for athletics, it feels almost impossible for the punters to have any effect on the players and that cannot be a good thing.
The standard of officiating needs to improve
Whether or not more technology is required to help the officials is an argument for another day but it is undoubtedly true that the standard of refereeing in recent weeks has been well below par. Taking the away team alone as a case study, the officials seem to have been at fault repeatedly in almost every one of their games lately.
Marcos Rojo escaped red cards for shocking challenges away at Everton and Crystal Palace in consecutive matches that looked a lot worse than Feghouli's on Jones. At Old Trafford on New Year's Eve, Zlatan Ibrahimovic had a perfectly legitimate goal disallowed for a high foot that would only have made sense as dangerous if footballs have become sentient. Against West Ham, his goal ought to have been ruled out for offside.
It appears these decisions even out over the course of a week, not a season. "It's all about you, it's all about you, Mike Dean, it's all about you" was the refrain of the home fans early in the second half. Indeed, there were times at the London Stadium where it felt more like the referee show than a game of football and that's something literally nobody wants. Well, there might be one notable exception.
Mourinho's changes pay off
There have been times during his Old Trafford tenure when Jose Mourinho has looked a shadow of his fomer self and some have speculated that, like his predecessor, the erstwhile special one might be a relic of a previous era, a man out of time. At West Ham, the two substitutes, Juan Mata and Marcus Rashford, combined to brilliant effect for the opening goal. Mourinho recognised that his team had to go for it against ten men in the second half and made the kind of proactive changes that characterised his initial spell at Chelsea.
Jesse Lingard had a disappointing afternoon and it made sense for him to make way for Rashford but the Mata change was more innovative. Matteo Darmian made way for the Spaniard with Michael Carrick moving to centre back initially. The introduction of Chris Smalling meant Carrick could move further upfield and the threat of Andy Carroll would be the concern of bona fide defenders. Fortune favours the brave and ultimately such thinking led to the visitors winning six games on the trot in the league for the first time since April 2015.