United travel to East London this evening for their final away fixture of this Premier League season, hopefully more focused on defeating David Moyes’ West Ham United side than they were at Brighton last Friday evening. On that occasion, a simply woeful performance from what was almost a “fringe XI” named by Jose Mourinho saw United record the third of three away losses to last season’s promoted clubs, an ignominious statistic if ever there was one.
That 1-0 victory was enough to guarantee Chris Hughton’s men another season of top flight football, and on the night they more than deserved their reward. United were hampered throughout by some very poor decision-making from quite a few players who have done themselves no favours with the manager, none more than Marcus Rashford who could have laid a goal “on a plate” for Anthony Martial in the 1st half but chose to greedily try for glory himself. Mourinho must also take some of the criticism for naming a ‘weakened’ side that showed scant respect for our opponents, though even the side he fielded should still have fared better than transpired.
By contrast, Moyes’ side guaranteed Premier League football at the London Stadium again next year with a fine (if somewhat surprising) 2-0 victory at Leicester City last Saturday, the second goal an absolute belter of a strike from veteran Hammers’ midfielder Mark Noble from all of 35 yards. Our former manager has endured a very mixed season at West Ham and is by no means certain of retaining his job over the summer months. They are a club seemingly in constant upheaval since leaving their Upton Park home a couple of years ago, a move which nearly all Hammers fans now bitterly regret.
One of the few success stories for “Moysie” has been the recent form of big Austrian hitman Marko Arnautovic, who has started to justify the large transfer fee paid to Stoke City for him last year. If fit to play, he will undoubtedly be the main dangerman for United to be wary of, along with the skilful guile of Portuguese playmaker Joao Mario.
Here is my team selection for this game: (fluid 4-3-2-1)
GK: David de Gea – Our “Player of the Year” again showed why he could almost keep the trophy on permanent display in his home with another assured performance at the Amex Arena, beaten only once by a point-blank header from Pascal Gross. Hopefully his terrific performances this season have not attracted any more unwanted interest from Spain, though it’s hard not to imagine the covetous glances constantly coming from Madrid…
RB: Antonio Valencia – Tony didn’t feature at Brighton, but it’s fair to say his replacement, Matteo Darmian, went a long way to ensuring he will NOT be a United player next season. Frankly the rumours that Juventus are interested in taking him back to Turin have me utterly baffled…why? The boy hasn’t played consistently well for United in 18 months. Hopefully Tony will be back in his normal berth and will put in a better attacking performance than in recent weeks, when he has been fairly subdued.
LB: Luke Shaw – Luke, yet again, showed in his brief cameo at Brighton just why he should have been getting more games this season, and I’d have no hesitation in starting him against the Hammers. Mourinho clearly fancies Ashley Young as the better fit for his ‘robotic’ adherence to a pre-determined tactic but for me Shaw brings more quality to the team, certainly from an attacking viewpoint.
CBs: Eric Bailly & Victor Lindelöf– Bailly really needs to get some time on the pitch before the F.A. Cup Final, and so should start this fixture. Alongside him, I’d bring in our young Swede, who has shown signs of finally fully adapting to life in England; his distribution from the back is easily the best of any of our centre-halves.
MFs: Scott McTominay, Ander Herrera & Paul Pogba– Nemanja Matic looks exhausted at times, and could really do with a week ‘off’ before the F.A. Cup Final; I’d bring in young McTominay, and pair him with Herrera and Pogba.
The Basque lad needs to keep pushing for a starting place in the Cup Final team (ahead of Marouane Fellaini, who was dreadful at Brighton and surely cannot be allowed to hold this Club to ransom over any new contract? The Belgian ‘talks’ like a 50-game a season regular in the media, whereas the reality is that he is no more than a bit-part player in our squad). Ander has always “got” what being a Manchester United player is all about, and I would expect to see no less than 100% effort from the little dynamo if selected.
Paul Pogba was infuriatingly ineffective at the Amex; we could do with a return to form from the big Frenchman to settle some of our nerves ahead of 19th May. He is another player who needs to be better with his decision-making in possession.
AMs: Jesse Lingard (RM) & Anthony Martial (LM) – Jesse dropped out of the line-up that started at Brighton, with Juan Mata preferred on the right. Much as I love our little Spaniard, I prefer to see him used at Old Trafford, where United dominate possession and almost ‘take the running’ out of the game. Jesse never stops working, looking for openings, and I’d give him a run out on the big open pitch at the London Stadium.
Martial should have had a goal gifted to him by Rashford last Friday, and the frustration of not receiving the pass perhaps affected him, culminating in a poor performance. With rumours that he wants to move on in the summer persisting, I’d love to see the Tony we used to see on a very regular basis make a welcome return tonight. I hope Martial stays, but I can understand why he feels frustrated right now, having been very much the one ‘to lose out’ since the arrival of Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal in January. Ultimately, however, he gets well paid to perform for United and really hasn’t been doing that consistently for some time now.
CF: Marcus Rashford– The injury to Romelu Lukaku means he will miss out until the F.A. Cup Final, and his absence was keenly felt last Friday evening. In all honesty even Romelu would have struggled to make an impact at the Amex, such was the poor standard being shown by those in red shirts. Rashford had a poor game, but in his defence you can hardly expect a lad who has only had fleeting visits from the bench in recent months to come in and ‘set the game on fire’. His decision-making needs to improve, though, if he hopes to have a long career with United; he’s not an inexperienced player any more.
BENCH: Romero, Smalling, Rojo, Sanchez, Mata, Young, Gomes.
Mourinho was quick to single out some of the players he brought in for public criticism last Friday evening…no surprise there then. However, he did have a point, no matter that such criticism should be confined to the dressing-room. The lax attitude of many in red was unworthy of the shirts they wore, and certainly poor ‘reward’ for the numerous loyal United fans who made the long journey south to witness such ineptitude. Put simply, I expect to see a lot better this evening, with 2nd position in the Premier League still not mathematically secured from Tottenham Hotspur’s reach.
West Ham, as seems to be a constant for them these days, are an unhappy camp, despite securing their Premier League status last Saturday. They have ownership issues, ground issues, manager issues and several player issues as well; United need to take advantage and finally put this league season “to bed” once and for all. Moyes has struggled to find any sort of consistent form with his squad, and I think if we can keep Joao Mario and Arnautovic (if fit) quiet we should have too much ability for the Hammers. They no longer have an intimidating ‘East End’ welcome to unsettle visiting teams and supporters- time for United to “show some teeth” ahead of the Cup Final showdown with Chelsea.
On a final note for this preview, I’d like to take this opportunity to send my own very best wishes to Sir Alex Ferguson as the great man continues to make a recovery from the emergency surgery he underwent for a brain hemorrhage last Saturday evening. I cannot even put into words what Sir Alex has meant to me personally, even though I’ve never had the privilege of meeting him. The man oversaw the realisation of all my teenage football dreams between 1990 and 2013, years of unsurpassed glory for our Club. We all, as United fans, owe him a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid, and I simply pray that Sir Alex battles on to a full recovery in the near future.