Sunday 18 March 2018

Chelsea wrong to sell Nemanja Matic as he stars in Manchester United romp

Manchester United's Nemanja Matic will be a key man for Serbia at the Aviva Stadium
Manchester United's Nemanja Matic will be a key man for Serbia at the Aviva Stadium

Luke Brown

Manchester United began the 2017/18 Premier League season with an impressive 4-0 mauling of West Ham at Old Trafford.

The hosts were guilty of spurning a hatful of fine chances in the opening half, but eventually took the lead when £75m summer signing Romelu Lukaku raced onto Marcus Rashford’s pass and cannoned in a shot off the crossbar.

He doubled his tally in the second-half, putting United 2-0 up by glancing in Henrikh Mkhitaryan's inswinging free-kick.

Anthony Martial added a third not long after being introduced from off the bench, while Paul Pogba capped a fine performance by curling in a shot from distance in injury time.

Here are five things we learned from the match.

Lukaku is the striker United have been looking for

On this evidence, signing Lukaku was £75m well spent for Manchester United. The striker loves scoring against West Ham – netting 9 times in his last ten appearances against the Hammers – and was brilliant in his Premier League debut for his new club, leading the line powerfully and bagging an all-important brace.

Most encouragingly, he also linked up especially well with Marcus Rashford, who repeatedly darted inside from off the wing to play Lukaku into space. The pair had a good understanding of one another’s games and will only get better the more they play alongside one another.

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Hernandez needs more support

There is no doubting that Hernandez is a quality striker, but playing as a lone striker in a 4-3-3 formation that quickly saw Andre Ayew and Marko Arnautović drop into deep positions, the Mexican looked incredible isolated.

And despite tirelessly chasing down every lost cause and harrying the United defence throughout, Hernandez touched the ball just 44 times - with only Andre Ayew finding himself on the ball less. If he’s going to succeed at West Ham, he needs somebody stationed alongside him to play off of.

Chelsea were wrong to sell Matic this summer

Chelsea’s title defence got off to an absolutely disastrous start this weekend, as Burnley ran them ragged in a shock 3-2 win. Worse: both Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas saw red, leaving Antonio Conte with a real selection headache for the away match against Tottenham.

In stark contrast, United played exceptionally well against West Ham, with new signing Nemanja Matic particularly impressive in the middle of the pitch. He was one of United’s busiest players, and particularly effective in the air. His happiness to do the dirty work meanwhile allowed Paul Pogba to push forward, and he already looks a superb addition to United’s starting XI.

West Ham fans shouldn’t lose hope

Slaven Bilic’s side look far stronger than they did last season and, against lesser sides, the likes of Hernandez, Ayew and Arnautović prosper. The side also have a number of talented young players coming through, including new signings Anouar El Mhassani and Sead Hakšabanović, as well as academy graduate Declan Rice, who was given a little run out here.

Manchester United away is one of the hardest opening weekend fixtures out there, and there is no shame in defeat. But it is important that West Ham take something from one of their next two away games – against Southampton and Newcastle respectively.

Four for United and it could have been more

When United last played West Ham at Old Trafford in the Premier League, they drew 1-1 despite dominating possession and taking 17 shots on goal. The performance epitomised United’s struggles last season, with the side having one of the lowest big chance conversion rates in the league.

This season things already look to be different – with Romelu Lukaku wasting little time in opening up his United account. But Mourinho’s side were still guilty of wasting a number of gilt-edged opportunities in the first half, and they should have killed this game long before they did. If United are going to win the league this year, they need to perform the way they did in the second half for the full 90 minutes.

Independent News Service

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