A week of off-field chaos for Manchester United culminated with a 3-1 defeat at the hands of West Ham. Here are three things we learned from the match.
Much of the build-up surrounding this match between West Ham and Manchester United concerned the current frostiness between Jose Mourinho and Paul Pogba. Pogba criticized the lack of attacking intent after United’s 1-1 draw against Wolves last weekend. He didn’t say anything about the defense.
He should have. West Ham ran roughshod over the 3-5-2 system Mourinho installed for the first time this season. Manuel Pelligrini looks a manager now comfortably off the hot seat, and there are several discussions to be had for each team. Here are the most important takeaways of the match.
A bad week for Mourinho mind games
A change in formation. A midfield utterly bossed by Mark Noble. Pogba and Anthony Martial taken off after 70 minutes while down two goals. Alexis Sanchez finally being benched may have been the only correct move Mourinho made this week.
All of the testiness this week spilled out, both in Mourinho’s actions on the touchline and the players’ lack of action on the pitch. The decision to go to a 3-5-2 was especially impactful in this match.
West Ham have been utilizing a style of counter-attacking soccer that’s improving each week. No width and an out-of-position Scott McTominay (who admittedly played ok given the circumstances) allowed the Hammers to play to their strengths. West Ham’s main man Marko Arnautovic sealed the game by being left totally unmarked on a counter-attack in the 74th minute.
Moving up the pitch, the results are not much better. The Pogba-led midfield was utterly static, allowing Noble to boss his way through the game. As per usual, the break-in-case-of-emergency plan from Mourinho ended up being lumping balls up to the human shrub that is Fellaini.
A great back heel goal from Marcus Rashford and a quality game on the left by Martial are perhaps the only positive takeaways from this match. As for the negatives, there are now rampant on-field and off-field problems to address. It is hard to see how Mourinho can come out of this tailspin.
Mourinho utilized his patented playbook of mind games this week, and it backfired horribly. Get ready for another week of drama at Old Trafford.
West Ham can challenge for the Europa spots
We should have seen this coming. Only a few matches into the season, with Pelligrini’s men on zero points, dark clouds began to swirl around West Ham.
We all seemed to forgot that they have a new manager bedding in nine new players this year. The past few weeks have shown the quality present in the side. Now, with time, that quality is presenting itself.
Seven points from their last three league games (Everton away, Chelsea home, Manchester United home), have West Ham firmly back on their feet and into 12th place at the moment. Add in the 8-0 thrashing over League Two side Macclesfield midweek in the Carabao Cup and West Ham have turned into one of the most in-form English squads.
Some of those nine new signings showcased their qualities today. In particular, Felipe Anderson, signed from Lazio in the summer, is worthy of praise. He opened the scoring after five minutes with a lovely redirection at full steam. Beyond that goal, he was inventive and a breath of fresh air — although he will need to improve his tracking back.
Arnautovic deserves his own plaudits. Since the calendar flipped to 2018, only Mohamed Salah has scored more than the Austrian in the Premier League. If he can get further help from the likes of Anderson, West Ham have a real chance at challenging as the best of the rest this season.
Manchester United need dynamism in the middle
With Pogba, Matic and Fellaini as the midfielders to start the match, one would assume there would be enough quality to boss the middle.
Not so. Noble and his West Ham teammates controlled the flow of the game. A beautiful through ball by Noble, more akin to something we would expect from Pogba, was the symbol of how flipped the performances in the middle were.
The Pogba that plays for Manchester United is not the Pogba that plays for France. Perhaps it’s the shackles of Mourinho’s system keeping him from unlocking the dynamism required at Old Trafford right now. Perhaps it’s the off-field kerfuffle between he and his manager stunting his play on the pitch.
Either way, something needs to be done. With Matic and Fellaini, one would expect Pogba to have the ability to move about in a more free role, but instead he was static and complacent in the middle of the park. Farther forward, deeper, roaming – all of the ideas generated for how to improve Pogba at United have fallen flat.
In the meantime, their opponents are triangle passing their way through the midfield as if it was a FIFA 19 training drill. Their lack of inventiveness is alienating Lukaku and the attack. There are rampant questions at Old Trafford, but on-field the problems begin in the middle.
With performances like this, the questions of if Mourinho is leaving are turning into questions of when.