Jose Mourinho’s men had a mixed season last time out: the Red Devils won the EFL Cup and the Europa League in their new manager’s debut year at the helm, yet finished sixth in the Premier League. Their victory over Ajax in the final of Europe’s secondary continental competition saw United qualify for the Champions League, but missing out on the top four by a margin of seven points – and failing to get anywhere near champions Chelsea – was undoubtedly a disappointment. An improvement will certainly be required this term, but there is reason to believe Mourinho will oversee one in his second season at Old Trafford.
Romelu Lukaku has joined the club as a replacement for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, while Victor Lindelof will boost United’s options at the back and Nemanja Matic provides extra steel in the centre of the park. Mourinho is still keen to land at least one more player, with Inter wide man Ivan Perisic a leading target all summer, but the squad has certainly been strengthened since the end of 2016/17. Whether their work in the transfer market is enough to bridge the gap remains to be seen – United amassed 24 fewer points than Chelsea last time out, after all – but Mourinho will hope that the recruitment of Lukaku is enough to help his side beat the opponents they are expected to beat, which was a particular problem last year.
West Ham’s first campaign at the London Stadium was a turbulent one, with some fine highs interspersed with several discreditable lows. In the end they secured a comfortable 11th-place finish, but that hardly told the full story of a topsy-turvy year which Slaven Bilic will not want to repeat this time around. Recruitment was a massive failing 12 months ago, but the signings of Joe Hart (on loan), Javier Hernandez, Pablo Zabaleta and Marko Arnautovic appear much more promising, even if question marks remain about the age of some of the club’s additions in recent windows. Equally important is the retention of Manuel Lanzini, who could be set for a big season as the Hammers’ key creative influence.
United will have to make do without Ashley Young (hamstring), Luke Shaw (foot) and Marcos Rojo (knee) on Sunday, but there is a good chance that all three men would not have featured in Mourinho’s starting XI anyway. Eric Bailly and Lindelof will likely start at centre-back, with a midfield trio of Ander Herrera, Matic and Paul Pogba ahead of them and Lukaku leading the line at the top of the pitch. The wide attacker roles are perhaps most difficult to predict given the wealth of options United have at their disposal, with Juan Mata, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Jesse Lingard all competition for the two available spots.
West Ham will be unable to call upon the services of Sofiane Feghouli (hamstring), Cheikhou Kouyate (knee), Diafra Sakho (back), Andy Carroll (groin) and Michail Antonio (hamstring), while Aaron Cresswell (muscle) and Lanzini (knee) are both rated as slight doubts. Bilic switched between 4-2-3-1 and 3-4-2-1 setups last term but will probably opt for the former here, with Hernandez up top against his former club and Arnautovic, Andre Ayew and Robert Snodgrass in behind.
Taking everything into account, it is worth putting some money on a United victory over West Ham at Old Trafford this weekend. Although Mourinho’s charges struggled in games like this in front of their own supporters last season – including when they faced West Ham, a match which ended 1-1 – they should have enough quality to get the job done here. A home win to nil is my tip for Sunday’s clash, while Pogba could be a good choice to find the back of the net anytime.