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Keys for West Ham at Old Trafford

Manchester United Training and Press Conference
Ibrahimovic will return from suspension for Sunday’s match
Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Starting with Tottenham last Saturday, West Ham are on a stretch of their schedule that is very cruel, especially since it is coming at the wrong time when they are trying to find their form. They travel to Old Trafford twice in the next week to play Manchester United, Sunday in the Premier League and Wednesday in the League Cup. This is followed by a London Derby, facing Arsenal at home, and then a trip back up north to face Liverpool. The Hammers started this stretch of matches pretty well, taking a 2-1 lead against Spurs, but we all know how that ended.

So West Ham are still trying to find their form this season, as they are only one point above the relegation zone. This is a tough stretch of matches to find that form. However, a win on Sunday against Manchester United could do wonders for the squad’s confidence. Here is what they need to do to grab three points from Old Trafford, which is very unfriendly to visitors:

Get Ahead Early

The Hammers did a great job of this at White Hart Lane on Saturday, when Michail Antonio headed in a goal in the 24th minute to give them a 1-0 lead. However, they were unable to keep the lead, on two occasions. However, Tottenham were fresh off of the international break and had the legs to chase the game twice. The difference with this weekend’s match is that United are playing in Europa League on Thursday night, home to Dutch side Feyenoord. And after playing a hard fought 1-1 draw against Arsenal last weekend, the Manchester side will certainly not be as fresh as Spurs were and will find it more difficult to chase the game if the Hammers can score first.

Another tidbit with this, and it is one of the craziest statistics ever. Manchester United have never lost a home match in the Premier League in which they were leading at halftime. So the Hammers should also be very wary of the consequences if they go down early in the match.

Stop the Supply

The reason for Manchester United’s struggle (or perhaps it is just that they have not lived up to expectations so far) is mainly due to their inability to finish so far. Manager José Mourinho has called his team the unluckiest in the Premier League. Looking at their draws with Stoke City, Burnley, and Arsenal, you can see how their finishing has let them down (or has just been unlucky). Against Stoke, United registered 24 shots, nine on target, with one goal. Against Burnley, they registered an astounding 38 shots, with 11 on target, but failed to put one in the back of the net. And against Arsenal, 12 shots, with five on target and one goal.

Clearly the finishing has not been there for United so far, whether you chalk it up to being unlucky or just poor finishing, but regardless, United have the ability to dominate the attack and supply plenty of goal scoring opportunities. Ander Herrera, Juan Mata, and Paul Pogba have been excellent in the midfield producing for their men upfront. Just statistically, this lack of goals will not continue if the production stays the same. United also have Zlatan Ibrahimovic returning from his one game suspension. If the Hammers want to come away with a victory, they need to focus on stopping the United midfield and stopping the supply, especially Mata who has looked dangerous coming forward all season. They cannot rely on United being unable to finish, because the Red Devils certainly have the overall quality to score goals, even if that quality has not quite been on display this season.

Play Solid Counter-Attacking Football

Manchester United have tended to play quite aggressive this season (e.g. 38 shots against Burnley) and because of this, have been caught sleeping at the back multiple times. Stoke City tied it up 1-1, with United playing very lackadaisical at the back to set up the goal. And then Chelsea caught them on the counter multiple times in their 4-0 win at Stamford Bridge. If West Ham can get an early lead, they should sit back, play solid defense at the back, and hit United on the counter. This will be made easier due to the fact that United still have a few injuries at the back. Their two best defenders so far, Eric Bailly and Chris Smalling, who have formed a very solid pairing at the back in central defense, will both be out for this match. This means Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo will most likely be paired at the back. Both like to come forward and this can be taken advantage of on the counter.

These keys are certainly a lot easier said than done. Coming away from Old Trafford with a victory will be difficult for the Hammers. But United have shown they are still not the team José Mourinho wants them to be, and are vulnerable. If West Ham can snatch a victory, this will be a huge turnaround in their season and can really push them on after their rough start.