Man United are losing form at worst time in Premier League top-four race

LONDON — Manchester United lost a Premier League game for the second time in four days as they were beaten 1-0 by West Ham at London Stadium.

– REPORT: Man United lose at West Ham thanks to De Gea error

After losing at Brighton on Thursday, United dropped more points in the race for the top four after David de Gea’s howler gifted West Ham a victory that all but ensures their Premier League survival, with 37 points traditionally good enough to avoid relegation.

Erik ten Hag’s team started well and had a host of chances in the opening 15 minutes, but West Ham took a lead in the first half and held on tight when Said Benrahma’s weak shot from 20 yards was palmed into his own net by De Gea.

The good news for United is that if they win their remaining three home games against Wolves, Chelsea and Fulham, they’re in the Champions League next season. The bad news is that they look like a team who have run out of steam at exactly the wrong moment.

This was their 57th game of a grueling campaign and it’s beginning to show, with just three wins from their past eight games in all competitions — one was on penalties in the FA Cup semifinal after a 0-0 draw with Brighton. The finish line cannot come soon enough. Liverpool are just a point behind in the race for the top four, but United have a game in hand and should still be favourites to qualify for the Champions League. It will concern some that this battle has suddenly become a lot more nerve-wracking than it should have been.

West Ham, meanwhile, have reached 37 points and should now be safe from the drop. The timing is perfect ahead of their Europa Conference League semifinal first leg against AZ Alkmaar on Thursday: David Moyes should be able to throw everything into reaching a European final without worrying about the Premier League clash with Brentford three days later.

The Dutch manager says his ultimate aim at United is to build a team capable of winning the biggest trophies at home and abroad, but there is a strong argument to be made that De Gea doesn’t deserve a place in it. There are significant doubts about whether he’s good enough on the ball to help Ten Hag build out of the back — he passed the ball straight to Declan Rice after just a couple of minutes on Sunday — and when he’s making mistakes like the one to gift Benrahma what would prove to be the game-winning goal, it’s hard to make a case for him to stay.

Ten Hag kept De Gea as his No.1 this season because he had other priorities in the transfer market, and that may well be the case again this summer. But if United use most of their budget on a striker, then one budget-friendly option could be to bring back Dean Henderson after his loan spell at Nottingham Forest and give him a run in the first team.

De Gea has been a fantastic goalkeeper for more than a decade, but the time is fast approaching for Ten Hag to decide whether he’s good enough to help take United to the next level and challenge Manchester City.

It’s not often a player is so good that you can make a case for him improving every top-six side in the Premier League, but Rice is pretty close. He’s an outstanding No.6, but can also play further forward as a No.8; it would be no surprise at all if the biggest clubs in England were queuing up for his signature in the summer.

It’s clear too that Rice deserves a move. After more than 200 appearances for West Ham, he has done his time in east London and should really be playing Champions League football every week. Arsenal are keen, but so are Chelsea, and if Jude Bellingham ends up at Real Madrid, then both Manchester City and Manchester United should also be making enquiries about Rice’s availability even if his valuation is set at £100 million.

Rice, 24, was West Ham’s driving force against United, one minute sprinting back to tidy up an Antony attack and then moments later racing into the opposition penalty area and dancing around two challenges to ping an inviting cross into the area that should have resulted in a goal.

The England midfielder has grown up at West Ham, but it’s time he was on a bigger stage.

Declan Rice, MF, West Ham: His positioning, passing and work rate were all spot-on and he looked the part as one of the best midfielders in the world.

Lukasz Fabianski, GK, West Ham: Dealt well with everything thrown at him, including a good late save from Anthony Martial.

Nayef Aguerd, DF, West Ham: The hosts had to withstand spells of United pressure and Aguerd was key to managing it.

David De Gea, GK, Man United: Made an awful mistake from Benrahma’s weak shot to gift West Ham the lead.

Wout Weghorst, ST, Man United: He started well but had to come off early in the second half because he offers no goal threat at all.

Luke Shaw, DF, Man United: West Ham’s goal was De Gea’s fault, but Shaw was second-best in a challenge during the buildup.

De Gea will wish he could have this one back…

… and the Hammers really thought they had a decisive second goal before VAR intervened.

Either way, they hung on for a vital win when it comes to their Premier League status.

“Obviously it’s massive, the significance is massive. The lads, they gave it absolutely everything, to win this one we knew it was big. Some things go for you in football and that was one of those things. Yeah, I’m buzzing.” West Ham and England midfielder Declan Rice, to BT Sport

“It [the result] leaves us much better, much harder for the other teams to catch us [in the fight to avoid relegation], they’ll find it very difficult to get the points. The number isn’t confirmed that it keeps you in the Premier League so we have to look forward to the next game and try and pick up more points.” West Ham manager David Moyes, to BT Sport

– David de Gea (540) overtakes Alex Stepney (539) for most appearances all-time by a Man United goalkeeper

– David de Gea: 2nd error leading to goal in Premier League this season, T-4th most among all players (only Lloris, Gueye and Meslier have more)

– Said Benrahma (WHU): 2nd goal vs Manchester United this season (all comps); also scored in FA Cup loss on March 1

In the past 5 Premier League seasons, only Jordan Pickford has more errors leading to goal than David de Gea: Everton’s Pickford (13) leads De Gea’s 11, with Tottenham’s Hugo Lloris (9) and a trio of keepers (Liverpool’s Alisson, Bernd Leno of Fulham and Martin Dubravka, who was with Newcastle) on eight.

– Manchester United has not won a game in the past 2 PL seasons in which they trailed at half-time

– Man United: Top-4 odds drop from 87% to 76%, per FiveThirtyEight

West Ham: David Moyes’ side have a busy week ahead as they try to avoid relegation while also competing for a trophy in Europe. The Hammers host Dutch side AZ Alkmaar on Thursday in the first leg of their UEFA Europa Conference League semifinal before a tricky trip to Brentford next Sunday.

Manchester United: Ten Hag & Co. have just the Premier League to worry about until the June 3 FA Cup final with Manchester City. Saturday they travel to Wolves in a league clash from which both sides could really use points.

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