United will be looking to put behind their midweek loss to Derby County, a defeat on penalties that saw them crash out of the Carabao Cup in the third round. However, that result has not been the biggest source of controversy at the club this week, as the relationship between Mourinho and star midfielder Paul Pogba has taken centre-stage.
Here’s a look at the talking points ahead of Saturday’s clash.
ALL EYES ON POGBA AND MOURINHO
Old Trafford may not quite be living up to its Theatre of Dreams moniker these days, but it’s still a stage for high drama. The past week has seen Pogba and Mourinho make headlines for all the wrong reasons, from a post-match interview to a heavily-scrutinised training ground interaction to a pre-match press conference – not to mention, confirmation of Mourinho’s decision to strip Pogba of the vice-captaincy.
Now, the attention can shift back to football, but the cameras will still be trained on the two protagonists. What is going on in Pogba’s mind? Will he stick to the game plan that his manager has laid out for the team, a week after criticising it in the press? Will he be subdued, after being admonished by Mourinho for giving the ball away in the build-up to Wolves’ equaliser last week and being demoted in the captaincy hierarchy? Or worse, will he be reckless, deciding to do whatever he wants on the pitch, looking to prove a point?
Meanwhile, Mourinho’s reactions to anything Pogba does, good or bad, will be put under the scanner, as well as any interactions he has with the midfielder during the match.
Come Saturday, London Stadium will be a theatre of a different kind.
CHANGE AT RIGHT-BACK?
While the scrutiny has been on Pogba’s hold on the Manchester United armband, the man who is actually designated to wear it every week should start worrying about his position not just as first-choice captain, but as a first-choice player in general.
Antonio Valencia has been a remarkable servant for the club, and a couple of years ago he had a strong claim to be the best right-back in the Premier League. Now, however, Diogo Dalot has arrived to take his spot, and though he’s only made two appearances, the 19-year-old has shown enough to suggest that, at the very least, he should be given an extended run in the side to stake his claim.
Valencia may still be the superior defender, but too often, his attacking contribution is poor. United rely on their full-backs for width, and crosses, and the service coming from the right has too often been poor. Dalot would be an instant improvement on that front, as his crossing has looked far more threatening than what the senior man has been providing of late. See, for example, United’s last-gasp equaliser against Derby in midweek, when the young Portugal right-back delivered a pinpoint cross for Marouane Fellaini.
Mourinho believes, perhaps rightly, that Dalot needs more time to acclimatise to English football, but how long will it be before he begins to give the youngster – a player he brought in this summer – more starts?
HOW REAL IS WEST HAM’S RESURGENCE?
Manuel Pellegrini’s reign at West Ham began with four straight league losses, but the Hammers have righted the ship since then with a win over Everton and a battling draw last week against Chelsea. They’ve also had two comfortable wins in the Carabao Cup, including this week’s resounding 8-0 win over Macclesfield Town.
So, are they for real?
Declan Rice’s form as a shield for the defence should give them cause for celebration – though that’s unlikely to happen until the 19-year-old agrees a new contract at the club. Further forward, Marko Arnautovic is always a threat, though he’ll be looking to improve his record of two goals in 11 appearances against United. Summer signing Andriy Yarmolenko has begun to make an impression, while fellow new arrival Felipe Anderson has also played well, though the club’s record signing has been solid more than spectacular so far.
There’s plenty to suggest that Pellegrini’s ways are starting to take hold at West Ham. The draw against Chelsea showed this side’s resilience and adaptability, and another result like that – or better – against the visitors from Manchester will send a statement. And United are on the verge of a crisis. Can West Ham take advantage?
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