Football is back and at last the weekend routine can return to normal subject to international breaks permitting. In the last of the weekend’s Matchweek 1 fixtures the Hammers travel north to face Manchester United at Old Trafford. After last season’s frustrations the slate is wiped clean as Slaven Bilic resumes his place in the hot seat with what looks to be a much improved and better balanced squad. Time to get behind the manager and team for the highs and lows of what we can only hope will be an exciting, enjoyable and entertaining season.
West Ham do not hold many Premier League records but the highest number of opening day defeats (with ten) is one of them, while today’s opponents are joint leaders in the collection of opening day victories, with sixteen. Throw in the fact that Jose Mourinho has never, as a manager, lost a season opener or lost a home league match on a Sunday then the omens do not look very promosing. Still there are always a handful of surprises on the opening weekend and hopefully these were not all used up yesterday.
Head to Head
Of the last twelve meetings between West Ham and Manchester United that wonderful and memorable last game at the Boleyn is the only win that the Hammers have recorded. The remainder have seen six defeats and five draws.
Old Trafford has never been the happiest hunting ground and despite some notable successes West Ham have only won fourteen times out of seventy visits (nine draws and forty seven defeats). The most recent victory was on the final day of the Great Escape season (May 2007) and in the twelve encounters since that day the record is lost nine and drawn three. Both the last two league meetings at Old Trafford have ended in draws including a scoreless one in December 2015 where the Hammers were clearly the better side.
“It’s not ideal playing against Manchester United at Old Trafford in the first game of the season, but on the other hand, it is brilliant and one of the greatest away games in the league.”
Slaven Bilic on the opening day fixture
You have to go back to the early days of the 1986/87 season for the last time that West Ham scored more than one goal at Old Trafford when two goals from Frank McAvennie and another from Alan Devonshire earned a 3-2 win to put West Ham top of the table. If Javier Hernandez is unsure whether or not to celebrate any goals that he scores then history suggests that he will only need to agonise about it one time.
Once again West Ham are pace setters on the Physio Room injuries table with several key players not available for selection. The probable absence of Manuel Lanzini and Michail Antonio are the biggest blows particularly with respect to any attacking aspirations that the Hammers may have. Cheikhou Kouyate, Diafra Sakho and Andy Carroll are all missing and Aaron Creswell is a doubt.
My expectation is that Bilic will start with the back three of Winston Reid, Angelo Ogbonna and Jose Fonte supported by Pablo Zabaleta and one of Arthur Masuaku or Cresswell as full/ wing backs. A probable midfield will see Pedro Obiang and Mark Noble at its heart with Marko Arnautovic and Andre Ayew wide and Herndandez a lonely figure up top.
“Everyone is available except the injuries that everybody knows, so the injuries that come from the previous season with surgeries. Every one of the 22, plus the goalkeepers, that started the pre-season is ready for Premier League match one.”
Jose Mourinho on his fully fit squad
Manchester United have no new injury concerns and will parade a host of expensive new signings including bogey man Romelu Lukaku.
Man in the Middle
Today’s referee is Martin Atkinson from West Yorkshire. We enjoyed Atkinson’s company four times last season: the home defeat to Watford; away wins to Crystal Palace (where he sent off Cresswell for two alleged yellow card offences) and Middlesbrough; and the away defeat to Arsenal (where he denied the Gunners a penalty or two to prevent an even more comprehensive scoreline).
Both Lawro and Paul Merson see the game as a stonewall 2-0 home win for the hosts. Mourinho’s teams are never flamboyant or packed with flair but rely on strength and relentless pressure to break teams down. West Ham will likely take several buses to park on the edge of the area and the danger will be giving away too many free-kicks close to goal. How well Zabaleta deals with the threat of Rashford could be a decisive individual contest. The shortest odds this afternoon must be for a Lukaku goal and I fear that if one goes in it could lead to several more. Difficult to see the Hammers fashioning too many quick breakaways but maybe Arnie and the Little Pea can conjure something up.
I would like to think that we can snatch a draw but deep down feel that we could lose by two or three. It would be nice to get off to a flying start to the season but with three away games on the bounce it will be tough to get many points on the board before the international break.