Manchester United hope to get their season back on track against West Ham United this weekend. Disappointing results in the last two home matches leave the Reds adrift, while reports of locker room unrest continue to seep out of Carrington. Saturday’s match in London could be a pivotal one in United’s season and José Mourinho’s tenure as manager.
It’s been a rough week for the club. The trouble started last Saturday, when United squandered an early lead over Wolves and let a golden chance at three points slip through their fingers. Most distressingly, the visitors thoroughly outclassed the Reds for large portions of the second half.
And that was the week’s high point.
On Tuesday, United crashed out of the Carabao Cup on penalties to Derby County of the Championship. Mourinho’s men opened and closed the match with goals, but lost out in a penalty shootout when Phil Jones missed his spot kick.
Worst of all, match-going Reds suffered the ignominy of watching manager Frank Lampard celebrate a big win on the Old Trafford turf.
But the on-field struggles pale in comparison to what’s apparently happening behind the scenes. After the Wolves draw, Mourinho stripped Paul Pogba of his vice captaincy because of some critical comments on the team’s playing style. It was a gutsy move to challenge the club’s star player in front of his teammates, but the boss obviously felt he needed to take a stand.
If Mourinho hoped for a strong response from his players on Tuesday, he got it ... for about three minutes. Juan Mata’s early goal looked to put United on cruise control for the next round, but they sputtered out and only took the Rams to penalties thanks to a last-minute Marouane Fellaini equalizer.
Then an Instagram post poured gasoline on the simmering fire inside the club. A video of Pogba and Andreas Pereira laughing from the stands during the Derby County match went viral, causing a tense standoff between manager and player at Wednesday’s training. Whether Pogba actually took joy from United’s cup struggles or Old Trafford’s flaky Wi-Fi was to blame, this saga is far from over.
For this weekend’s trip to London, expect a much-changed side. Mourinho made nine changes for the midweek cup tie, choosing to rest many of his regulars and give the squad players a run out. Most of them failed to impress.
Antonio Valencia, Luke Shaw, Victor Lindelöf, and Chris Smalling all sat out on Tuesday and could be recalled for West Ham. When playing together, this unit has performed well so far this season.
Diogo Dalot sparkled again against Derby County, but will probably cede his right back spot to Valencia for this one. Dalot continues to impress at every opportunity, but Mourinho will take a conservative approach as he helps the teenager adapt to Premier League football.
In midfield, everything revolves around the Pogba situation. No one knows what will come of the latest dustup, so the engine room remains up in the air. Fellaini has played well of late, Fred earned a closer look after his goal against Wolves, and Nemanja Matić is back from suspension. But Pogba makes it all click and would be a huge loss if benched.
Another potential change comes up top. Despite hopes that a summer of rest would rejuvenate Alexis Sánchez, the Chilean seems miles off his world-class standards. Anthony Martial created numerous scoring chances on Tuesday and deserves a start against the Hammers. If not him, Marcus Rashford returns from his three-match suspension and could fill in too.
Despite their lowly position of 17th, West Ham are actually playing pretty well right now. They held Chelsea at the weekend, becoming the first club to take points off Maurizio Sarri’s team this season. The Hammers followed that up with the absolute demolition of Macclesfield Town in the Carabao Cup.
West Ham blasted the League Two strugglers 8-0 to advance to the fourth round. That’s now three strong results in a row for Manuel Pellegrini’s side, after they started the season with four straight losses. Needless to say, the Hammers enter this weekend’s match with a lot more confidence than our beleaguered Reds.
One big question for the hosts is the health of forward Marko Arnautović. The big Austrian has already scored three times for the club this season, but missed the last two matches after picking up a knock late in the win over Everton. Pellegrini didn’t risk him against Macclesfield Town and his availability for Saturday remains unknown.
This is a must-win for Manchester United. Whether with attractive possession football or route-one long balls to Lukaku, it’s all about three points this weekend. José Mourinho’s side have won their last three road matches — and they really, really need to make that four.