16:00 KO (BST); Sunday 13th August; Old Trafford (Manchester, England) Sky Sports
United return from their summer break by entertaining West Ham to Old Trafford, a team which José Mourinho claims could be a surprise package in the league this year following their dealings in the transfer market.
The Red Devils’ own dealings may well have fallen one short of their managers wish for four names to come through the door, however, the three who have arrived should help United push themselves up another notch from their previous campaign.
A sixth-place finish some 24 points behind the Champions may well require more than one notch to be climbed, but the road starts at home and three points could set them off in the right direction.
Slaven Bilic was a manager under pressure just a few short months ago following a disappointing season. He has since been suitably backed by his club to improve their fortunes with a respectable investment, but this is likely to come at the price of an expected return in West Ham’s upward mobility both in performances and league standing.
A long list of injuries will make his immediate task more problematic, as will the fact that the Hammers haven’t won at Old Trafford in the last thirteen visits.
Last Time Out
MANCHESTER UNITED 1 – 2 Real Madrid (Uefa Super Cup)
A hot and humid game saw United narrowly lose out to Madrid, however, there was a bigger gap between these two sides than the scoreline suggests.
A dominant display from Los Blancos will help Mourinho’s work in progress to refocus on where they aim to be, while a small helping of humility may also aid them on the eve of their new season.
With many of the game’s better performers wearing white shirts, Nemanja Matic was the one player who really stood out for the Red Devils. His clever range of passing coupled with his tenacity provided a touch of class in the centre of the pitch for United.
Mourinho will also have been heartened by the way his side continued to push into the late stages of the game despite the conditions making it difficult so deep into the match.
Manchester City 3 – 0 WEST HAM (The Super Match)
West Ham concluded their pre-season schedule with a humbling defeat in Iceland, leaving them without a win in their preparations for the new season.
Missing several of the first-team players, the Hammers began with intent, but fell behind after conceding possession cheaply in the 8th minute through a loose pass in midfield.
While Gabriel Jesus’ early strike was the only goal before half-time, City were well on top in a one-sided game and Bilic will surely be alarmed at how easy City were able to carve through his team.
At the other end of the pitch, Javier Hernández had little impact during his 45 minute cameo while both Marko Arnautovic and Andre Ayew picked up knocks after ineffective performances.
Further goals in the second half from Sergio Agüero and Raheem Sterling compounded the Hammers’ misery, yet it could have been much worse if not for a fine performance from Joe Hart who was allowed to play against his parent club.
Manchester United Lineup
Luke Shaw (foot), Marcos Rojo (knee) and Ashley Young (hamstring) will be United’s only absentees from the game, leaving Mourinho with many choices to make regarding his first starting XI of the season.
The hardest choice will possibly be on the left wing where Martial has looked impressive in pre-season, however, competition from Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard could prevent him from starting.
West Ham Lineup
Cheikhou Kouyate (knee), Diafra Sakho (back), Manuel Lanzini (knee), Andy Carroll (hip) and Michail Antonio (hamstring) are all out, while Sofiane Feghouli is also expected to miss the game as he recovers from a knock.
Key Battle: Romelu Lukaku vs Javier Hernández
Both sides will feature a new main striker in their side for the opening game and both are more than capable of delivering goals and wins for their respective teams. It’s strange to consider now how many people baulked at the prospect of United paying £75m for the capture of a proven striker just five short weeks ago.
While his price tag will remain a weighty talking point during future analysis on his worth, Lukaku has the Premier League experience and confidence to make his time at Old Trafford a success.
United’s old favourite striker will be lining up against them this weekend following Chicharito’s £16m move from Bayer Leverkusen. The diminutive forward will always be held dear by the Red Devils fans and he will be making his 50th appearance playing inside Old Trafford when the game begins on Sunday afternoon.
Having scored 28 goals from his 54 Bundesliga games, Hernandez still makes a good return for his team and could be part of a solution to the Hammers’ drastic form last year.
Managing the difference
Manchester United don’t have the strongest squad of players in the league, yet many people are tipping them as having a strong chance of claiming the League title in nine months time. A large reason for bridging this gap between quality and effectiveness lies at the feet of their manager, José Mourinho.
Love him or hate him, there’s little denying that he’s a born winner with an insatiable appetite for silverware. While this can lead him to take a realistic rather than a passionate or philosophical approach like some of the other top managers in the Premier League, it often leaves him being misunderstood on occasions.
There can be little doubt that he will pick up more trophy’s for United over time, however, how long his reign will last at Old Trafford will greatly depend upon if he’s able to challenge for the crown over the next year or two.
With a lot of healthy competition facing him and little room to hide now that he’s invested and built a large portion of the team in front of him, this will be a challenge to put his managerial skills to the test.
The new Payet
Marko Arnautović’s move from Stoke City this summer was for a fee reportedly in the region of £25m. Having long been toying with the idea of a change in scenery and with a desire to remain in the Premier League, West Ham are the club that have won the battle to gain his signature.
There will be strong hopes in East London that the 28-year-old Austrian playmaker can fill the void in the team which Payet created after his sudden departure from London last Christmas.
While both players are creative forces for their team and can engineer match-winning moments either directly or indirectly, Arnautovic needs to add a higher level of consistency to his game before he can truly be compared to the player he replaces.
Surrounded by talented players with lofty ambitions and change of habitat could provide Arnautovic with a push and the challenge he needs to fire him to further glory.
The year of the Pog?
After a deceptively productive year for United following his record-breaking transfer, Pogba could be another player set too reach new heights during this coming season. The arrival of Matic into United’s midfield will free the Frenchman to play more of his natural game and in doing so, should see his star burn brighter.
Expected to play higher up the field, Pogba will be given ample chance to beat last season’s tally of nine goals, although the woodwork did prevent him claiming more on numerous occasions throughout the year.
With his manager repeatedly praising all aspects of his game, it can be seen how much faith those behind the scenes have in him. It will be up to him now to prove that he’s worthy of their confidence and in doing so he could be one of this season’s stand-out performers.
PREDICTION: Manchester United 2 – 0 West Ham United
Although West Ham will make a marked improvement on their displays during the summer friendlies, they look like a side who have a long way still to develop. Their lengthy injury list will also prove a sufficient handicap, especially with playmakers such as Lanzini and Antonio missing from the action.
At home and with fresh aspirations which remain as yet untarnished, Manchester United should prove more than capable of beating a weakened Hammers team, but what more they manage to prove this year remains to be seen.