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Preview: Manchester United vs. Valencia

United hope to stay on top of Group H

West Ham United v Manchester United - Premier League
Juan Mata could be reunited with his former club on Tuesday.
Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

October’s gotta be better, right? After beginning September with three straight wins, Manchester United ended the month with a string of poor results — capped off by Saturday’s 3-1 defeat at West Ham United.

That loss dropped the Reds to tenth in the table and matches the club’s worst-ever start to a Premier League season. Not good.

United’s attention now turns back to the Champions League for an important Group H showdown with Valencia. José Mourinho’s side already sit joint-top of the group after beating Young Boys in the opener and could take a giant leap towards knockout round qualification with another win at Old Trafford on Tuesday.

Although this weekend’s loss in London still stings, Mourinho relishes the chance to get back on the pitch right away. “I am really happy that we have a game on Tuesday,” the manager said post-match. “I am really happy that I now go to the train and I start immediately thinking about training tomorrow, about the match on Tuesday.

“I prefer that than playing next Sunday, with one week of these bad feelings. I look forward to that match on Tuesday and I hope the majority of the players have this same kind of mentality and that they are looking forward to Tuesday.”

But, even with the slow start, Mourinho refuses to question the attitude of his players. Earlier this season, United bounced back from consecutive losses to Brighton and Tottenham with some huge wins to stave off a crisis. Surely the manager now hopes for a repeat performance.

It might be time to shake up the defense after allowing three goals to West Ham. That includes an own goal from Victor Lindelöf, who was pulled before the hour mark. His place in the side is probably in jeopardy.

Does that mean a recall for Eric Bailly? Not necessarily. On Saturday, United played with three at the back and Mourinho preferred Scott McTominay — the teenage midfielder — over him. That’s not exactly a vote of confidence.

At right back, it could be Antonio Valencia, Diogo Dalot, or even Ashley Young. The 33-year-old filled in for Valencia on Saturday and can’t wait to make amends for the side’s poor performance. “When you have these types of results, you want a game as quickly as possible,” Young explained. “We’ve got that in a couple of days’ time, so we’ve got to dust ourselves off quickly and get rid of the disappointment.”

Mourinho brushed aside the reported friction between himself and Paul Pogba, opting to start the French midfielder at London Stadium. Until the manager says otherwise, it appears their frosty relationship won’t affect Pogba’s playing time. That’s probably wise considering United need a positive result in the worst way.

Up front, it’s pretty clear that Romelu Lukaku will start every match possible. The biggest question in attack remains Alexis Sánchez. He was dropped for the West Ham match after a very slow start to the season, but Anthony Martial didn’t do much with his chance in the starting eleven. Perhaps the benching will wake Alexis up.

One bright spot on Saturday was Marcus Rashford. Back from a three-match suspension, Rashford scored with a delightful flick that briefly pulled United back into the game. His suspension really disrupted any momentum from a strong summer and international break with England, so hopefully Rashford can now finally claim a regular place in the side.

Valencia enter this match in better form than United — but that’s not really saying much. At the weekend, they traveled to Real Sociedad and got their first league win of the season.

Marcelino’s Valencia haven’t been bad, but they struggle to convert draws into wins. In fact, they’ve only lost once in their last six, though four of those results have been draws. Valencia’s last loss came in the Group H opener against Juventus, when the Italian champs won 2-0 at the Mestalla.

For a side struggling to score, Valencia boast two big-name forwards — Kevin Gameiro and Michy Batshuayi. Both have played regularly, but only have one goal apiece to show for their efforts. Marcelino surely expected a better return when he brought the pair to the club this summer.

Hopefully, Manchester United can keep a lid on Valencia on Tuesday night. A win would take the Reds six points clear of their visitors and firmly establish themselves and Juventus as the class of Group H. Plus, United could use a little breathing room before Ronaldo and company roll into Old Trafford later this month.