Reds chase goals as struggling West Ham visit Old Trafford
As results go, Manchester United’s victory over Dutch side Feyenoord was certainly overdue. José Mourinho’s side found its shooting boots along with some electrifying performances in a 4-0 victory that leaves the Reds close to qualification for the Europa League knockout stages. United scored more than once for the first time in three home games to break an unfortunate record. Could it spark a much-needed revival?
There will be tougher tests to come than Feyenoord, although Mourinho’s side can take confidence from scoring so many, while eliminating the carelessness that allowed Arsenal and Stoke City to equalise in recent weeks.
Sunday’s visitors, West Ham United, represent a very different and far more important challenge. Mourinho’s team is six points behind fourth-placed Arsenal and 11 points off Chelsea at the top of the Premier League. While Mourinho has refused to rule his side out of the title race, it is appears that United’s best hope this season is to qualify for the Champions League. The primary target for the fourth year in succession.
"As results go, United’s victory over Feyenoord was overdue. Mourinho’s side found its shooting boots alongside some electrifying performances in a victory that leaves the Reds close to qualification for the Europa League knockout stages. "
There was never going to be a quick fix to the problems facing the club, but the Hammers‘ form offers genuine hope that Mourinho’s team can get back to winning ways in the league. Slaven Bilic’s side is 17th, outside the relegation zone on goal difference having won just once in the past five games. It could be a long afternoon for the visitors if the Hammers remain as defensively suspect as in recent weeks.
Still, West Ham’s record away from the Olympic Stadium is better than at home, with the London outfit scoring in all but one fixture on the road this season. Bilic is determined to turn his side’s fortunes around, citing an improved performance against Tottenham Hotspur last time out. West Ham lost 3-2 despite claiming a two goal lead.
Mourinho’s side possesses the quality to overcome visitors that are unpredictable at best, even if the Portuguese manager is unhappy with facing the London side twice in four days. It is a double-header that could stimulate a surge up the table, with Mourinho citing recent experience of large points swings.
“When I won the last title 18 years ago – sorry, 18 months ago – I had a 10 point advantage and then, in one month, I had the same points as Man City,” Mourinho said.
“Then we recovered and won that title 18 years ago – sorry, 18 months ago. You can recover points, others can lose points. During the season, there are moments when everything goes against you and moments where everything goes in your favour. We know that the game is not over, but the reality is there is a distance.”
Mourinho’s siege mentality remains his go-to strategy, although only the proverbial siege on West Ham’s goal will ensure victory in the manner that could spark an assault on the top of the Premier League.
Either way, United’s run of implausible results at home in the Premier League is unlikely to continue. Mourinho’s men offered supporters a taste of what the team is capable on Thursday night, and with tough fixtures still to come, Sunday once again represents a must win for United.
With United finally hitting something close to good form, the emphasis is on the Reds to chalk up a convincing victory. With Mourinho’s team six points off fourth place an emphatic win on Sunday will go a long way to remind Mourinho’s critics that he, and indeed the club, are not quite finished yet.
United subs: Romero, Rojo, Fosu-Mensah, Schneiderlin, Fellaini, Carrick, Memphis, Rashford, Martial
West Ham subs: Randolph, Nordtveit, Feghouli, Zaza, Collins, Fletcher, Fernandes
Antonio Valencia’s surprise return from injury was welcome news last weekend. The Ecuadorian has been exceptional this season, with performances of the type that once led Mourinho to enquire about bringing the full-back to Real Madrid.
Phil Jones again features in Chris Smalling’s absence after two sound performances against Arsenal and Feyenoord. Jones endures ridicule for his inability to keep fit, but there remains a player who could yet earn one more chance at Old Trafford. Daley Blind will be his partner in central defence, with Luke Shaw retaining his place at left-back after an improved performance against Feyenoord.
In midfield, Michael Carrick drops to the bench after completing 90 minutes twice in the past week. Ander Herrera comes into the side to Paul Pogba, with the world-record signing now finding his feet at United. After further evidence that Wayne Rooney is returning to form in midweek the England striker starts at 10, with the Scouser also enjoying a positive cameo against Arsenal last weekend.
Zlatan Ibrahimović plays despite another sub-par performance on Thursday night, although the Swede played a part in three of United’s four goals, highlighting the player’s quality despite a poor scoring record over the past three months. Juan Mata continues on the right wth Rooney back in the team, while Henrik Mkhitaryan may make only his second Premier League start after a fine display at Old Trafford on Thursday night. The Armenian stood out as United’s best player on Thursday.
Referee: Jonathan Moss
Assistants: A Halliday, S Bennett
Fourth Official: A Taylor
United 3-0 West Ham