Manchester United vs. West Ham United

Match Analysis
Carlo Alessandro Valladares

Carlo Alessandro Valladares

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On this particular occasion, both sides’ season opener records followed their typical trajectory. Manchester United have the most opening fixture wins in Premier League history while West Ham United have the most season opening defeats. As it happened, this match kept both records going strong.

Jose Mourinho’s outfit came out and secured a well-deserved three points with a 4-0 win over the Hammers. “They were better with the ball and better without the ball,” said West Ham manager, Slaven Bilic, his words receiving no sense of disagreement on social media.

The difference in class was there for all to see, it is true, and even better for Mourinho, that his side achieved victory in thrilling and exciting fashion. Anything less than a win and the criticism would have been massive considering Manchester United spent $75 million on Romelu Lukaku, $31 million on Victor Lindelof, and $40 million on Nemanja Matic over the summer.

If you’re of the “poetic” football fan ilk and outlook, then Manchester’s more expansive style, especially after their pragmatic set up against Real Madrid at mid-week, likely kept your Twitter knives locked away as the Red Devils danced to a highly fluid 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 set up. It was a big step away from the strict midfield marking of their 5-3-2 in last Tuesday’s UEFA Super Cup.

If you’re curious, then watch the video below to see how Mourinho’s new back three formation worked in defensive mid and low-block phases against Real Madrid.

That aside, it was back to his old fashioned back four on Sunday. The starting elevens of both sides are below:


West Ham defensive block and Manchester United build up and counter- press

Right from the opening seconds, it was clear to see how West Ham were going to defend, how Manchester United was going to build out from the back, and how Mourinho’s side were going to counter-press:

West Ham attack Manchester United’s right side

Bilic’s side didn’t have the ball very much in the first-half and mostly had the best chances at goal on the counter-attack. However, their attempts weren’t much better in transitional phases.

It was clear throughout the match that West Ham were content with attacking Manchester’s right side. They often liked to create four-man overloads on the wing. The video below shows their basic flank overload formation.

Manchester United attacking-half build up and possession strategy

The video below explains in great detail how Manchester United’s possession play works.

Manchester United high-block mid-press and West Ham build out the back

Manchester United aren’t a great high-pressing team, it’s a style that Mourinho will only use when he feels the opponent is mentally weak or tactically naïve or both.

Against Ajax in the Europa League final, Manchester United played a quite aggressive high-press for about five minutes, by Mourinho standards, and used it to throw Ajax’s young players off their possession-based game. Now, against West Ham, who have players with a stronger mentality than Ajax, United didn’t see the need to aggressively high-press, but they did use a high-block mid-press in a 4-2-2-2.

Watch the video below where I break it down:

Importance of Nemanja Matic

The Serbian and Mourinho-loyalist is a tremendously intelligent and responsible defensive midfielder who can also play a tidy and safe central-attacking role, but it is his reading of attacks that allow Pogba to be the more creative and ambitious partner.

Matic was amazing. His involvement in Romelu Lukaku’s opening goal can’t be forgotten.

Furthermore, per Squawka, Matic’s importance went beyond defensive blocks and he ran the midfield with his passing qualities:

Matic is the glue and is arguably now the most important piece to Mourinho’s ever changing puzzle. He’s the player that has, almost single handed, transformed their transitions both ways. To no one’s surprise, he was voted Manchester United’s Man of the Match:


West Ham came out with more intention to improve their possession play and they did. After Lukaku scored the second goal of the match, United dropped focus for a couple of minutes and West Ham troubled the Red Devils’ penalty area, but they couldn’t capitalize on anything.

West Ham’s direct and cross-based game plan was still the end result of their improved form on the ball, but they still had nothing to show for. They continued to attack United’s right side and whip crosses in.

To conclude what was arguably Manchester’s best match with Mourinho in charge, things are looking to finally turn a corner for a club that is used to challenging for domestic and UCL titles season in, season out.

Mourinho got his XI spot on on Sunday and it looks as though he might stick to this more expansive approach for the long term.

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