Manchester United’s start to the season went from bad to worse on Saturday, as they were beaten 3-1 by West Ham United at the London Stadium. It wasn’t that West Ham were especially good; it was more that United were considerably worse.
Sandwiches hadn’t even been served by the time the hosts broke the deadlock, barely five minutes into the lunchtime kickoff. But it says much about how United started that when Felipe Anderson flicked Pablo Zabaleta’s driven cross past David de Gea, it had seemed a while in coming. The offside flag should have been raised in the build-up in the Hammers’ opener, but no amount of misfortune could mask United’s poor start.
José Mourinho’s peculiar decision to draft Scott McTominay into a back three had the unwanted side-effect of inviting waves of West Ham pressure, and Romelu Lukaku cut a lone figure up top. United’s forays into the final third were few and far between, and their best chance came when the Belgian striker nipped in front of young centre-back Issa Diop to meet an Ashley Young cross, though his header bounced out off the base of the post.
The upshot was that United had failed to register a single shot on target by the time West Ham doubled their lead two minutes before the break. Having had a slice of luck on the first goal, the hosts were handed a whole plateful for the second, when an Andriy Yarmolenko shot destined to clear the crossbar bounced off Victor Lindelöf and looped over a helpless de Gea. An own goal that rather summed up United’s afternoon.
Whether through stubborn persistence or naïve hope, Mourinho opted against halftime changes. But after 10 minutes of more of the same, Lindelöf was hauled off to make way for Marcus Rashford in a desperate attempt to liven things up. Paul Pogba would soon follow suit, replaced by Fred in the second of United’s three changes. West Ham, meanwhile, had slipped into a more defensive mode, abandoning the high-pressure strategy that had underpinned their first half success.
It took until past the hour until the hosts’ keeper Łukasz Fabiański was seriously tested, though when called upon by a powerful Marouane Fellaini header, he proved more than up to the task. There was, however, nothing the Pole could do when Rashford pulled one back a few minutes later, improvising a brilliant backheel to convert a Luke Shaw corner. United suddenly had a chance of salvaging something.
But it was a chance they contrived to waste — and in double-quick time. Just three minutes after Rashford had pulled one back, a gaping hole between McTominay and Chris Smalling was exploited with disastrous consequences. Mark Noble’s through-ball could hardly have been made any easier, and Marko Arnautović lived up to his reputation as one of the Premier League’s most clinical marksmen by sliding calmly past de Gea for three. Game, set, and match.
Where do we go from here?