After stumbling through August, Manchester United returned from the season’s first international break a new team. Two wins in a row have the Reds heading into the weekend’s trip to West Ham brimming with confidence. Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Sunday’s match.
(1) As expected, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer fielded a youthful side in this week’s Europa League opener. Mason Greenwood, Tahith Chong, Angel Gomes, Axel Tuanzebe, and Diogo Dalot all made the starting eleven and acquitted themselves quite well. None of their performances will drastically alter the boss’s selection plans for Sunday, but they all deserve more minutes — either in next week’s Carabao Cup tie against Rochdale or other Group L matches.
24y 145d - The average age of Manchester United's starting XI against Astana is 24 years and 145 days; their youngest in a Europa League/Champions League game since December 2012 (24y 54d v CFR Cluj). Stage. #MNUAST pic.twitter.com/Korf5B6BG4— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 19, 2019
(2) The academy grad closest to a first-team breakthrough is undoubtedly Mason Greenwood. He’s already come off the bench four times this season in the Premier League and capped off Thursday’s start with the winning goal. That’s not only his first senior strike for United, but it also makes him the club’s youngest goalscorer in any European competition. Everyone’s got extremely high hopes for young Mason and he took another big step towards fulfilling them against FC Astana. Expect another impact sub appearance from him on Sunday. Not bad for a 17-year-old.
(3) Manchester United and West Ham both enter this match even on eight points after five Premier League matches. Goal difference, though, tells a very different story — with the Hammers sitting four places behind United with a paltry -1 mark. Much of that comes from the 5-0 drubbing against Manchester City on opening day, though there’s little shame at ending up on the wrong end of a lopsided scoreline from Pep’s boys. To West Ham’s credit, they’ve rebounded well from that loss and are now unbeaten in their last five in all competitions.
(4) United remain in search of their first road win in forever. London Stadium doesn’t exactly rank among the more intimidating venues in the Premier League, but road form has been a major problem for Solskjaer’s side. The last time United won away from Old Trafford was in Paris last March — over six months ago. It hasn’t been all bad, though. United looked decent in picking up points from both Wolves and Southampton.
(5) Even though Dalot and Jesse Lingard returned to action on Thursday, United are still dealing with major injury problems. Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial, and Luke Shaw have all missed multiple games and Daniel James joined them on the sidelines after picking up a knock in the Leicester City win. Ole’s keeping his cards close to his vest on the injury front, but he hinted that Pogba, Martial, and Shaw will likely miss out on Sunday.
(6) Some off-the-pitch news lifted spirits at the club this week — contract extensions for both David De Gea and Victor Lindelöf. DDG ended months of speculation and hand-wringing by signing on the dotted line for another four years. Much has been made of De Gea’s recent struggles — including the game-changing howler against Crystal Palace — but, with the deal finally done, hopefully he’ll get back to his world-class best. Lindelöf also signed until 2024, allowing United the peace of mind that this central defense partnership is all locked up and ready to take its place among the league’s best.
(7) West Ham spent big bucks ahead of Mauricio Pellegrini’s second season in charge. The Hammers broke their transfer record to reel in Sebastien Haller from Eintracht Frankfurt for £45 million. They also dropped £24 million on Villarreal’s Pablo Fornals to add a bit of attacking impetus to midfield. With this quality over quantity approach, Pellegrini is obviously targeting a finish far higher than last season’s tenth place. The two big signings — joined by Albian Ajeti (£8 million) — perfectly complement the incumbent talent like Declan Rice, Issa Diop, Manuel Lanzini, and more.
(8) The Haller move deserves a closer look. He’s tall and strong, but does so much more than just overpower defenders. His nine assists last season in the Bundesliga show how he creates chances for others, often using his aerial prowess to set teammates free on goal. And he’s no slouch in the scoring department, either. Haller racked up fifteen goals a season ago and already has three in four Premier League matches. Just a superb purchase for the Hammers — one that bigger clubs might regret missing out on in years to come. Haller also led the Bundesliga in tackles by a striker. Seriously, this guy is the complete package.
Sebastien Haller won more aerial duels (6) than any other player in the first half against Aston Villa.— Squawka Football (@Squawka) September 16, 2019
A threat in the air. pic.twitter.com/yTgTHvQJr0
(9) Lost in all the big-money signings, West Ham did not spend anything on their defense. And, considering Lukasz Fabianski led the 2018/19 Premier League in saves (in large part because the leaky backline allowed so many shots), that seemed an unwise choice. But, other than the opening day debacle against Manchester City, the Hammers defense has more than held its own, allowing just two goals in the last five matches.
(10) Last time out, West Ham hung on for a 0-0 draw at Villa Park despite playing a man down for much of the second half. In the 67th minute, Arthur Masuaku picked up his second yellow card and will now miss Sunday’s match against United. Aaron Cresswell will likely replace Masuaku at left back this weekend.
(11) After the 1-0 win over FC Astana, Ole assured ManUtd.com that the boys will be ready for another big game on Sunday:
We have prepared for the [West Ham] game already this week. We’ve had two games in our eyes. Two games that we’ve been looking forward to. Tomorrow will be a recovery day for everyone and Saturday a preparation day, so we’re set for that one.