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Three key battles ahead of West Ham’s visit to Manchester United



The Premier League season is finally underway, with Manchester United and West Ham bringing the opening weekend to a close with their clash at Old Trafford.

The Hammers will face a tough task against United, having failed to win at Old Trafford since 2007 when Carlos Tevez’s goal enabled West Ham to retain their  top-flight status. The Red Devils also have an imperious record against West Ham at home, having won 17 of their previous 21 Premier League contests at Old Trafford (D2, L2).

West Ham will hope that their four debutants will inspire a change of fortunes at the Theatre of Dreams, particularly with former United striker Javier Hernandez likely to start in attack.

Here are three key battles that will shape the course of the game:

Paul Pogba vs Mark Noble

Both of these players are likely to start in midfield at Old Trafford, with the battle between the two central to determining which side will hold sway in the middle of the park.

Paul Pogba was one of United’s brightest and most consistent performers last season, with his boundless energy and workrate complimenting a diverse passing range. Hammers’ skipper Noble boasts similar dynamism and tenacity in his game, even if he has less of a license to get forward in West Ham’s preferred 4-2-3-1 system.

The Frenchman has the slight edge statistically, with Pogba outscoring Noble by five goals to three in the Premier League last term. Pogba even completed an average of three interceptions per game to Noble’s one during the 2016/17 campaign, while he also boasted a superior pass completion rate and won a higher percentage of aerial duels.

With Matic set to start alongside Pogba and likely to be charged with engaging Pedro Obiang, Noble could find himself in direct combat with Pogba and may struggle to cope with the Frenchman’s power, drive and excellent technical ability.

If the Hammers are to get a result and end their 10-year winless run at Old Trafford, Noble will have to find a way of besting Pogba while driving West Ham forward when in possession of the ball.

Antonio Valencia vs Marko Arnautovic

While all eyes will be on Javier Hernandez in West Ham’s attack, the prolific Mexican will be relying on his teammates to provide him with some high quality service at Old Trafford.

In this respect, £25 million signing Marko Arnautovic will be crucial. An inconsistent and enigmatic performer, he combined brilliant goals with abject performances during his time at Stoke City, scoring six times in 32 appearances last term while creating 50 chances for his side.

He possesses the quality to unlock any defence with a moment of brilliance, so the Hammers will be looking to him to provide width and penetration from the left flank.

In his way will be the imposing figure of Antonio Valencia, with the 32-year old Ecuadorian now firmly established as one of the best right-backs in the league. Not only does he offer pace and a constant outlet in attack (which is crucial when you consider United’s narrow attacking formation), but is he also reliable at the back and completed a total of four interceptions per game during last season.

Valencia will be focused on preventing Arnautovic from cutting inside onto his right foot, while he will also look to drive him back and force him to defend at every opportunity. If he succeeds, West Ham will find it difficult to get the deadly Hernandez involved in the game.

Romelu Lukaku vs Winston Reid

The £75 million signing of Romelu Lukaku represented a significant piece of business for Manchester United, particularly given the Belgian’s ability to plunder goals against weaker opposition. This was an area where the Red Devils were sorely lacking last season, and they will be hoping that Lukaku starts to repay his fee with a goal or two on his Old Trafford debut.

The former Everton hitman scored 25 goals in 37 Premier League appearances last term, while he also created 46 chances for his colleagues. This is another important element of his game, as Lukaku will need to hold possession and quickly bring others into play as United look to build attacks against massed defences at Old Trafford.

Hammers centre-back Winston Reid will probably take responsibility for stopping Lukaku, with the New Zealand international now extremely experienced in the Premier League. The stopper also showcased excellent form in difficult circumstances last season, completing an average of 12 defensive actions per game in the top-flight.

He also won 53% of his aerial duels during this time, and this could be an important feature given the stature and aerial ability of Lukaku.

This could well be an exceptionally physical battle, but if Reid can subdue Lukaku it may provide a platform for West Ham to take the game to Manchester United and pose an attacking threat of their own.

I am a passionate sports fan and football writer from the UK, with particular knowledge of the English Premier League.

Manchester United

Is a Luke Shaw for Danny Rose swap deal a no-brainer transfer?

Shaw and Rose have both struggled at Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, respectively, this season.



Photo: Getty Images

It looks as though Manchester United left-back Luke Shaw will be leaving Old Trafford this summer. The BBC report the England international will seek an exit after his latest stinging criticism from Jose Mourinho.

Shaw has struggled to win over the Portuguese since Mourinho became United manager. Now it seems the end of the tether has been located and Shaw will make an exit. The 22-year-old, who cost a fee reported by the BBC to be in the region of £27 million in 2014, will not be short of suitors.

Despite his struggles at Manchester United since suffering a horror leg break, Shaw is considered one of the best young left-backs in the game.

The obvious solution should be clear and for Shaw certainly desired. A move to Tottenham Hotspur must be his wish.

Shaw came through the ranks at Southampton and became an England international under the coaching of Mauricio Pochettino. The pair had a special bond and Shaw has confirmed a desire to work with the Argentine again. He wrote in Guillem Balague’s book Brave New World: Inside Pochettino’s Spurs, as reported by Sky Sports:

“I do hope that I can play for him again one day. And I think he really wants me to play under him again.

“He used to call me his son, that’s how good our relationship was. I’ve had lots of ups and downs, but when I was with Pochettino it was only ever up, up, up.”

It is a similar relationship to the one many have suggested Pochettino had with his current Tottenham left-back Danny Rose. That relationship, however, has been in decline. After appearing to suggest he wanted a Spurs exit last summer, and after a battle with injury, Rose has become second-fiddle at Spurs to Welshman Ben Davies.  

Rose, originally from Leeds, is known to eventually want a return north and Shaw will no doubt love a move south. There is an obvious solution on the cards here.

Manchester United would love to bring in Rose and finally fill their problem position of left-back. Shaw needs to leave Old Trafford for a fresh start to his career. Working under the man he once considered a father figure could be just what he needs.

Shaw to Tottenham and Rose to Manchester United seems a no-brainer. Time will tell if either move comes off for these two players searching for fresh impetus in their careers.

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Manchester United

Jose Mourinho should build Manchester United around Marcus Rashford

Marcus Rashford returned with a bang against local rivals Liverpool on Saturday.

Rob Meech



Photo: Getty Images

In his first Premier League start since Boxing Day, Marcus Rashford inspired Manchester United to victory over fierce rivals Liverpool. The 20-year-old’s first-half brace was the perfect way to mark his return to the starting XI, which had been confirmed following an injury to Paul Pogba.

Rashford has been a peripheral figure since Alexis Sanchez joined the club in the January transfer window. But, in arguably the biggest fixture on the Premier League calendar, the England international grabbed with both hands a rare opportunity to impress as United moved five points clear of Liverpool.

There was no evidence that Rashford’s prolonged spell out of favour had affected his self-confidence. His first goal was bursting with skill and composure. After latching on to a long ball from Lukaku, Rashford bamboozled Trent Alexander-Arnold before firing past Loris Karius.

Although his second found the net with the aid of a deflection, once again it was a testament to his sharpness. Despite his limited game time, that’s now 12 goals in all competitions this season for the World Cup hopeful.

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Rashford’s stunning contribution will certainly give Jose Mourinho food for thought. The Portuguese has regularly picked Pogba, Sanchez, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard ahead of Rashford of late, in the attacking trio behind Romelu Lukaku.

While Martial and Lingard have justified their selections, the same cannot be said of Pogba, who at times has looked uninterested. Sanchez too has yet to exhibit his best form in a United shirt since joining from Arsenal.

History has taught us that Mourinho rarely excludes his high-profile players, regardless of form. Had Pogba not been sidelined through injury, it is entirely likely Rashford would once again have been forced to watch on from the bench. Consequently, what transpired against Liverpool might have been a mere fantasy.

United have a proud tradition of producing homegrown players and not relying on foreign imports. Look at the treble-winning side of 1999, whose success was founded upon a British core.

Admittedly, the landscape has changed dramatically in the past two decades. The riches of the Premier League mean a club of United’s stature is able to cherry-pick the world’s best players. But just because they can, doesn’t mean they should. The club’s identity is sacred and, in recent times, United have been in danger of losing theirs.

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

The fact that Rashford was not signed for £75 million should not preclude him from being United’s centrepiece. As he reminded everyone in his performance against Liverpool, he has all the talent required to be a fixture at the club for years to come.

However, he needs to be playing regular football. A few minutes here and there will not accelerate his development. On the contrary, it could risk one of this country’s most promising starlets becoming an unfulfilled talent.

Rashford offers United something different from his team-mates. He gets supporters off their seats and electrifies the atmosphere thanks to his blistering pace and trickery, which in many ways is a throwback to the Sir Alex Ferguson era at Old Trafford.

These are qualities not usually associated with Mourinho, who throughout his time in management has always demanded his players to be tactically aware. Rashford is a wildcard, the ace in the pack that can conjure something out of nothing.

Forget Pogba and Sanchez, If Mourinho gives Rashford an extended run in the team, he and United will flourish.

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Manchester United

Are Manchester United finding form at the perfect time?

Jose Mourinho out-smarted Jurgen Klopp on Saturday to strengthen Manchester United’s grasp on 2nd.

Jake Jackman



Photo: Getty Images

Manchester United have been criticised for their style of play this season, while some have suggested they are a team of individuals. However, they delivered a very good performance to beat rivals Liverpool to build up a five-point lead in second place.

Jose Mourinho will be delighted with the effort and cutting edge of his team, as he got the better of Jurgen Klopp in a huge game to strengthen his team’s position in the top four.

Paul Pogba missed out through injury, which would have been a disappointment before a ball was kicked. However, Scott McTominay and Nemanja Matic dominated the midfield areas with 13 ball recoveries in the ninety minutes. Ahead of them, Juan Mata added creativity and an attacking threat, especially in the first-half.

The Spaniard came close to scoring before the break with an overhead kick effort and his distribution was nearly faultless, as he finished the match with a 90% pass success rate.

The 29-year-old has had problems with Mourinho in the past, but he has emerged as a great squad option, especially in big matches. In addition to his nice touches on the ball, he made three ball recoveries. This underlines how he has bought into the style of his manager.

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Marcus Rashford was another player to come into the team and he showed why he was selected as he scored twice to put Manchester United into a commanding first-half lead. His two goals were similar as they both came from Romelu Lukaku knock-ons. Mourinho knew Liverpool could be targeted with a direct approach and it worked.

The first showed great movement from Rashford as he gambled on his team-mate winning the ball and that gave him the march on the Liverpool defenders. He then coolly dropped a shoulder and cut inside before firing past Loris Karius. It showed impressive composure and skill in the final third. The England international has sometimes struggled with his final ball, but he was back to his best on Saturday.

He then added a second that once again showed his excellent finishing ability. Another long ball caused chaos, but it didn’t go directly to Rashford this time. When it did drop at his feet on the edge of the area, he delivered a perfectly measured shot to make it 2-0. It is now up to the 20-year-old to push on over the coming weeks to become a regular starter for club and country.

Jose Mourinho flourishes when he is defending a lead. He prefers to control matches without possession and that was the case on Saturday as his team had only 31.9% of possession. Liverpool had 14 attempts to Manchester United’s five, but the result was never in doubt.

That is highlighted by the expected goals. Michael Caley’s model valued the home side’s chances created at exactly 1.0, while it valued Liverpool’s opportunities at 0.8.

To put this into context, Manchester United had less possession and had fewer attempts, but they created the better chances and kept an in-form Liverpool attack relatively quiet.

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

The finish was made nervy by an unfortunate own goal from Eric Bailly. The defender couldn’t repeat what he managed even if he tried and it is difficult to prepare for such a bad piece of luck. Luckily for Mourinho, his side had a two-goal lead and the own goal didn’t push them.

The majority of Manchester United players can be pleased with their performances, but Ashley Young was perhaps the standout player. The 32-year-old made 10 ball recoveries and made five clearances to help the defensive effort.

Mohamed Salah was rarely in the game and the England international deserves huge credit for his role in that. He was disciplined and rarely ventured forwards. If he can continue to perform to that level, he would emerge as a great World Cup option for Gareth Southgate.

The past week for Manchester United has been a positive one and it should provide them with momentum to finish the season strongly. They showed great spirit to fight back from 2-0 down at Selhurst Park to get three points and they displayed excellent game-management to dispatch of one of their rivals.

They are now in a good position to finish second and that would be an achievement of sorts given the consistency of Manchester City. In addition to that, they can target Champions League success.

They aren’t one of the frontrunners for the competition, but they are good at managing games and have beaten now Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham at Old Trafford. If they can improve away from home, they could reach their peak at the perfect time.

Jose Mourinho has a record of doing that and this result should encourage supporters that this season could follow a similar pattern.

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