Manchester United travel to West Ham United on Sunday in the Premier League where United sit two points ahead of West Ham in the table after four games. Ole Gunnar Solskjær will want three points this weekend to soothe a disastrous opening Champions League group game defeat away to Young Boys. David Moyes’s side, meanwhile, beat Dinamo Zagreb 2-0 in Croatia on Thursday night in the Europa League. United do not have the excuse of facing a fresh team who’ve not played for a week and will still be looking for support from their travelling fans.
An anaemic performance and Solskjær’s dizzying substitutions on Tuesday evening as United attempted and failed to rescue a point has made an already difficult looking October and November that much trickier. Making it hard for yourselves taken to the extreme. Any slipups in the Premier League before welcoming Villarreal to Old Trafford at the end of September will feel like undue pressure on a side yet to settle. It’s no hyperbole to state that Solskjær has to show this season that they can win trophies together – the Cristiano Ronaldo transfer has seen to any wiggle room there. Another campaign peppered with ‘we’ll bounce back’ platitudes will not cut it.
United suddenly have issues all at once with both full-backs. Luke Shaw started the season well continuing his impressive form and hot from the summer with England but has gone off the boil in the last couple of matches.
Solskjær: "Scott [McTominay] and Alex [Telles] have joined in training this morning fully. They look good. Of course we need to have them go through a few sessions before we can consider if they’re going to be available." #mulive [mu]— utdreport (@utdreport) September 16, 2021
Shaw could probably do with a rest soon and, fortunately, Alex Telles is back in training.
For Aaron Wan-Bissaka the picture is less clear. Diogo Dalot will now have a chance in the Champions League with Wan-Bissaka suspended for United’s next game at home to Villarreal. Dalot won’t be going into this cold and if he can impress during September he could well end up improving United’s right-hand side making life easier for Jadon Sancho supporting the forward in attack. Wan-Bissaka will be feeling the pressure – no bad thing – beginning with seeking redemption for his red card in Switzerland.
There was merit in selecting Victor Lindelöf against Young Boys, and United didn’t lose because Lindelöf was in the team. Nevertheless, Raphaël Varane will be required from the off in London to steady the ship at the back providing reassuring calmness and decisiveness. Lindelöf back in the side on Wednesday next week.
Donny van de Beek was having a promising 45 minutes on Tuesday alongside Fred in central midfield showing strength on the ball and passes into the forwards. Had the game played out as you would expect when United took the lead after 13 minutes, Van de Beek would have likely grown into the match further. As it was, the Dutch midfielder can’t catch a break.
The decision to select Van de Beek meant Paul Pogba returned to the left side of the attack and put Mason Greenwood on the bench. With the forward options available to United, Pogba popping up on the left shouldn’t happen too often this season, but concerns persist about a Pogba plus one pivot in midfield. United were easily cut open against Newcastle at home when Fred partnered Pogba and the much-maligned partnership of Scott McTominay and Fred is probably required facing the better sides. Solskjær shouldn’t need this on Sunday. McTominay has the chance to show he can be an adequate foil for Pogba and control the space behind. A lot is riding on it working.
As with Wan-Bissaka, Jesse Lingard must be keen to make up for his Fergie-time howler in Tuesday’s loss to Young Boys and shouldn’t have to wait too long for the opportunity. Along with the added motivation of playing in the London Stadium where Lingard successfully spent the second half of last season on loan. Lingard will surely start in the EFL Cup at Old Trafford when United host West Ham but, should Sancho struggle again at the weekend, or Ronaldo not go the full 90 minutes, Lingard could be a great option off the bench in familiar surroundings. Especially if United find themselves in a position to counterattack the Hammers.
Played no part in the defeat at the Wankdorf, Greenwood, and should start on Sunday – perhaps even moving up front if Cristiano Ronaldo is withdrawn in the latter stages.
Ronaldo won’t play every game for United, though four clear days between fixtures and a rest in midweek coming up should see the 36-year-old in the starting eleven at West Ham. Solskjær will hope his star striker can open the scoring for a third successive match and that, on this occasion, United can capitalise rather than capitulate. Only a win will do.
Edinson Cavani is close to returning and for Mason Greenwood, having sat and watched United unravel in Bern, Sunday is an opportunity to remind his manager that he’s also a valuable source of goals for the team.