West Ham vs Manchester United




O n Sunday United's past confronts its current and potentially future. The last week has been a sobering one for Manchester United fans. The 'SIUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU' chants which reverberated around Old Trafford have given way to accusations of 'CLUEEEEEELESSS' thrown at Ole Gunnar Solskjaer - a man who has still not convinced a substantial portion of the United faithful he is the right man to bring the big trophies back to the Red Devils - despite his side sitting on top of the table.

Why is this the case? well there remains the feeling that Ole has no real philosophy of how he wants the game to be played and he is just throwing players on to the pitch and hoping for the best. This criticism seems harsh when one considers how often Ole was able to change the game in the second half in previous seasons, a sign that he can grasp what has gone wrong and find the solution. Perhaps the bigger issue is why the shit needs to hit the fan before United begin to react.

We will explore United's current weaknesses throughout this piece but what is interesting is that Moyes faced a similar issue at United. His tenure at Everton was built on a healthy dose of pragmatism and his ability to spot players with the right mentality and physicality, get them well organised off the ball and give them the freedom to create in the final third. This has also served him well at West Ham and they are a thorn in the side for most top teams.

The big problem with this is that making a side hard to beat and then having a laissez-faire approach to attacking can come unstuck when you are managing a side aspiring to win a league title and challenge for the Champions League. You are basically going into any given game with the approach that you are giving the opposition a chance to compete, and that you will adapt on the day to any problems they present - rather than imposing your own game on the opposition. Moyes struggled with this adjustment and whilst Ole has fared better, he still has not quite taken that next step with this United side.

In terms of selection issues, Edinson Cavani hasn’t featured in the last two matches due to an issue picked up at Carrington. He would have been unlikely to feature anyway as Ole lays out the red carpet for Ronaldo - who in fairness seems to be earning the right to be starting without any dispute. With McTominay out, Ole is really struggling to create a functional midfield and the big debate here will be whether he starts Matic alongside Fred, or Pobga alongside either - most likely Matic.

As for West Ham, they will be without the recently crowned Premier League Player of the Month for August, Michail Antonio. The Jamaica international was sent off after receiving two bookings during Saturday’s goalless draw with Southampton and will now serve a one-match suspension. In Antonio’s absence, West Ham are rumoured to be starting Jarred Bowen up front. Do they lineup with a back 5 and focus on their defensive shape to compensate, or use Yarmolenko or Vlasic to retain the 4-2-3-1 shape? Benrahma is also a late injury doubt after picking up a knock midweek.

Without further ado, let us dive now into the tactics and key battles which could decide Saturday's fascinating duel!

West Ham vs Manchester United



West Ham rarely lose the ball in their own defensive third. They tend to hover between 10-17 losses in deeper areas and this is because under any hint of serious pressure, Craig Dawson is usually tasked with finding the forwards with a lofted long ball. This option will not be as relevant in this game due to the absence of Antonio. This will be a problem for West Ham as Rice and Soucek prefer to compete for second balls rather than assist with bringing the ball out from the back.

United are currently average 9.85 PPDA and are ranked within the top 5 teams in terms of their press. A surprise perhaps to those who denigrate Ole's side as being from the stone age but there has been a concerted effort by Ole's coaching staff to turn this United side into a more aggressive side without the ball. Much has also been made of Ronaldo's age and lack of willingness to get dirty but as mentioned in our twitter, his defensive numbers were better last year than when he was younger so it seems Ronaldo is aware he needs to up his game in this regard.

If United do engage the press, it is likely they do so in a 4-2-3-1 structure and Ronaldo hunts the centre back with the ball and Bruno targets the other centre back and the wingers go on to the full backs. With Matic or McTominay in their midfield, United will have the height to win that long ball and with Varane and Maguire there in case the pass is longer, I believe West Ham will struggle without Antonio to utilise this form of build up. They are better off trying to build through the flanks, by concentrating most of their forwards down one flank.

West Ham Build Up


David Moyes loves a cross. We remember that infamous United performance against Fulham when 81 crosses were attempted and this season West Ham are joint top for completed crosses put into the box. This isn't necessarily a problem when you have a forward line and full backs who can cross and compete for crosses inside the box. The issue at United was he had neither and he now faces a problem with this strategy with the absence of Antonio and no Haller (who is now tearing it up for Ajax on loan).

Nevertheless to describe Moyes' side as a bunch of cross it into the box and inshallah merchants would be doing his side a great disservice. If we recall in Moyes' original Everton side, he had players such as Steven Pienaar who was very neat and tidy on the ball and a 1 v 1 threat. At West Ham he has several of these types of players and they are more than capable of weaving their magic or producing short and sharp combinations in and around the box.

Interestingly Benrahma has not featured much in previous encounters in United, who have won the last three encounters and he will certainly be needed in order to give United to think about especially after Wan-Bissaka's reckless performance in midweek. The bigger question mark is what to do on the right flank if Bowen is moved into the centre forward position. My personal preference is for Yarmolenko to be utilised as a right winger to ensure West Ham have a genuine wing threat down either side but we could also see a shift to a 3-4-3.

If Benrahma is out injured, expect to see Fornals down the left and Vlasic or Lanzini in behind Bowen in a 3-4-3 set up. In truth - it lacks the pizazz needed to breach this United backline. If he does make it in and West Ham still use that lineup, then as we saw last season - the formation can pose a threat, but it did run out of steam in the second half. West Ham need to find a way to ride the momentum of the lively home crowd.

West Ham Final Third


United on paper should be a difficult side to transition against when you look at their defence on paper. Shaw, Wan-Bissaka and Varane - that is a scary backline in terms of defending counter attack as there is recovery pace overload. When you consider that West Ham are missing Antonio as well - one of the biggest counter attacking threats in Europe right now, it does seem highly likely that West Ham will struggle in this regard.

However there is more to defending a counter attack than just looking at the defenders. The midfield plays a huge role in stopping a counter in its tracks and in the absence of McTominay, United have looked very shaky in negative transition. Matic does not have the legs, Pogba lacks the discipline to get back and Fred lacks the intelligence to be able to snuff out a counter on his own - he needs support.

McTominay has been back in training and whilst it is unlikely he will start, if he does make it on to the pitch and is anywhere near to a good level of fitness, he could make a big impact on the direction of the game. Without him, Fornals, Benrahma, Vlasic (if he starts) - all of these players could drift into central areas and wreak havoc on the counter.

West Ham Transition



West Ham tend to drop off against bigger sides and keep their shape. Against United last year despite the impressive start in their 3-1 game, they still gave United ample room in the midfield. One suspects that Pogba will therefore be used in the midfield with this in mind, knowing he will have the time to get on the ball and spread the play.

If this is the case and the likes of Greenwood and Sancho are on the flanks, there is plenty of possession IQ in the side and United will not give up the ball easily. Therefore if Pogba or whomever in midfield is marked and not coming to collect deep, expect plenty of patient passing between the centre backs until there is an opening down the flanks or for one of the wingers to come inside and receive alongside Bruno.

United Build Up


One player who seems to enjoy playing against West Ham is Mason Greenwood. He has looked electric in his performances against them and I would fancy him to put in a performance after being rested midweek. There are a lot of players in this United side who either look ill-suited or only thrive against cannon-fodder but Greenwood is someone who always seems to make an impact when the chips are down and in the hostile atmosphere of the Olympic stadium - he is the type of player who can make his mark.

One of the frustrating features of the Sancho signing was seeing a lot of United fans herald him as the solution to the right wing problem. If you recall my thread I was reluctant to sing his praises in this regard. He is not a proper hug the touchline winger and does not really suit Solksjaer's tactics. Nevertheless it seems Ole has clocked on to this and is utilising him mostly from the left, where he can roam and has Shaw overlapping.

To my mind, he looks better here. He looks more comfortable and he has looked sharper in recent games. If he manages to grab a goal or an assist, his confidence could start to take him to heights no one has seen from him in a United shirt thus far. Furthermore Coufal is a weak link defensively and I would urge United to focus their attacks down the left and overload that flank. With Shaw, Ronaldo, Sancho and possibly Pogba down that side... West Ham could be found wanting here.

United Final Third


The way West Ham set up, it is difficult to exploit in transition. They only got countered 3 times last season and still have not conceded a goal in negative transition thus far this season. Do United have the tools to defeat the stats?

There is no doubt that Bruno and Pogba have the passing range from deep to find forwards on the counter, nor that Ronaldo can be lethal in space but will West Ham allow that situation to develop often? Will they play with a high enough line? it seems rather doubtful and in truth United's forward line does not exactly scream electric pace. Therefore I suspect United's goals (if any) to come more from static situations.

United transition


Two pragmatic managers who tend to rely on individual brilliance to overwhelm the opposition rather than an array of sophisticated patterns of play. Both teams are missing a very key player, Antonio for West Ham and McTominay for United. The Olympic Stadium can be a difficult place to venture to for United, they never find it easy there and even though they do secure results - it is usually after a very hard fight.

Prediction… If West Ham are to win, I would like to see a very enterprising forward line... Bowen, Benrahma, Vlasic, Fornals, Yarmolenko - 4 out of these guys needs to play for them to have a chance. Rice and Soucek will struggle to control the game, so the midfield battle will be dominated by United. As for United, the biggest issue is whether that midfield can handle the negative transition. Overall edging towards a hard-fought United victory - history seems to be on their side and I am not sure if West Ham have the 1 v 1 specialists in defence to keep United at bay for 90 minutes.

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