Mourinho’s big men Matic and Lukaku look to end Manchester United strife

Matic and Lukaku @premierleague

Three quick points on Manchester United 4-0 West Ham at Old Trafford in the Premier League on Sunday afternoon.

1. United and Lukaku off to a flier

Manchester United won their opening league game of last season, too, a 3-1 victory at Bournemouth. But West Ham at home is significant because they were one of the teams who got a point at Old Trafford.

The 10 home league draws cost United 20 points and they eventually finished 24 behind champions Chelsea. That will have to change if they are going to challenge for the title.

The key issue behind that disappointing home record was a lack of goals. A lot of the responsibility will fall on Romelu Lukaku, and the Belgian must have been delighted to see West Ham first up.

Lukaku likes playing West Ham, and before the game had bagged nine goals in his last 10 games against them for Everton.

It took him 32 minutes at Old Trafford to add another. His first Premier League goal following a £75 million move from Goodison Park owed much to Nemanja Matic winning the ball back in midfield and Marcus Rashford’s run and pass.

But Lukaku will have felt a mixture of joy and relief when his shot smashed in off the inside of the post. He got one against Real Madrid in the Super Cup on Tuesday but he has been bought to do it in the Premier League. It’s the main reason he got the nod over Alvaro Morata, who scored on his Chelsea Premier League debut on Saturday following his move from Real Madrid.

Lukaku’s second came after 52 minutes, heading in Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s clipped free-kick. Nine career goals in 12 games against West Ham was suddenly 11 in 13. He could not have asked for a better start.

With the points wrapped up, Anthony Martial came on in the second half to slot in a third goal two minutes from time. It was a timely reminder to Tottenham that United are probably not going to accept £25 million for the Frenchman.

There was still time for Martial to add an assist, laying the ball to Paul Pogba to smash in a fourth from 20 yards.

2. Matic the difference for Mourinho

Matic might not be as glamorous a signing as a new centre forward but he is already having a big impact.

Despite training alone at Chelsea for most the summer, the Serbian was impressive on his debut against Sampdoria in Dublin and again against Real Madrid in the Super Cup.

Against West Ham, he showed just why Mourinho was happy to splash £35 million on a 29-year-old. United hadn’t created a clear chance before Matic rushed out of midfield to clatter into Pedro Obiang. The ball fell to Rashford and 20 seconds later Lukaku was wheeling away celebrating his goal. It was a lightning quick counterattack. But it wouldn’t have happened without Matic.

Tiemoue Bakayoko will have to be some player to replace him at Stamford Bridge. No wonder Antonio Conte isn’t best pleased.

It wasn’t a great day for all United’s signings and Victor Lindelof watched the game from the stands along with Michael Carrick, Luke Shaw and Ashley Young.

There was no indication from United that the Swede is injured and, after a difficult preseason, he may be getting the Mkhitaryan treatment from last season. Mkhitaryan was hauled off following a dire display against Manchester City in September and it took months to regain Mourinho’s trust.

Eric Bailly and Phil Jones, the centre-back pairing against West Ham, did nothing to suggest they won’t start again at Swansea next week.

By then, Mourinho will hope to have his final signing in the bag.

He says he wants one more player “to come from the sides” — the suggestion being he is still after a Gareth Bale or Ivan Perisic type.

Juan Mata and Rashford did well in the wide roles — Rashford especially, who hit the post in the second half — but there is still room for an out-and-out winger.

3. West Ham cannot afford another slow start

Old Trafford on the opening weekend of the season was probably not a game Slaven Bilic looked at with any great hope. But he will be mindful of what happened last season.

West Ham won just one of their opening seven games last season — a run that led to plenty of debate about whether he was still the right man for the job. They eventually turned it around and finished 11th, but Bilic won’t want a similar situation this time.

The problem for West Ham is that they don’t play a home game until the middle of September. The London Stadium hosting the World Athletics Championships means Bilic’s side play United, Southampton and Newcastle away from home before Huddersfield’s visit on Sep 11.

Club record signing Marko Arnautovic was bright on his competitive debut, although not so much that former United striker Javier Hernandez had much of a sniff of goal.

West Ham’s season will depend on Arnautovic supplying the chances for Hernandez to prove he can still score goals in the Premier League.

There is no reason why he shouldn’t recreate the form that made him a favourite at Old Trafford, but he didn’t get much change out of Bailly and Jones.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *