It is here at last. The curtain rises. Premier League football is back and is about to consume our lives one game at a time for the next nine months.
Manchester United will begin their 2017/18 campaign at Old Trafford where they found themselves trapped for many a time last season – in a series of 1-1 and 0-0 draws, much to the frustration of the supporters and the manager. Having added three new faces and losing a few old faces – so to speak, United look primed for bigger things in Jose Mourinho’s usually successful second season, if history is anything to go by. They will go into this game in fairly high spirits, with a rounded pre-season tour under their belt where they won six out of seven games and a valiant defeat in the UEFA Super Cup against the best club side in the world.
West Ham United have made some experienced additions to their squad in the transfer window which has their fans buoyant again, following a largely disappointing season given the expectations at the club. For much of last campaign, the Hammers found themselves stuck in a rut – in the shape of their 60,000 capacity Olympic Stadium and the problems that came with it. Losing star man Dimitri Payet midway through the season and in the way they did, certainly dampened the mood further for a while and a distinct lack of goals (only 47 in the league) saw them stumble to an 11th place finish. A tough opening contest away from home against a title contender awaits Slaven Bilic – but they could count on past experience of causing opening day upsets on the road.
For Jose Mourinho, there are no key debilitating injuries to factor into his selection ahead of Sunday. In his press conference, he said,
“Everyone is available except the injuries that everybody knows, so the injuries that come from the previous season with surgeries. [We have] one more reason to be happy because, in this pre-season, we didn’t lose any player. Every one of the 22, plus the goalkeepers, that started the pre-season is ready for Premier League match one.”
With the exception of Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo, Ashley Young who have all been carrying injuries since the back-end of last season, everyone is fit and ready to be involved on the opening day.
West Ham will be without Manuel Lanzini after the forward suffered a knock in training. Left back Cresswell is a doubt while Sofiane Feghouli, Cheikhou Kouyate, Diafra Sakho, Andy Carroll and Michail Antonio are all on the treatment table. The big news, however, is the return of former Manchester United forward Javier Hernandez after the Mexican International was sold on a permanent deal in 2015.
- No team has won more opening day fixtures in the Premier League than Manchester United (16, level with Chelsea).
- Three of the last five Premier League games between these two clubs have ended in a draw, with one win apiece in this run.
- Five of West Ham’s last six Premier League goals against Manchester United have come from set-pieces (one corner, four free-kicks).
Romelu Lukaku – Manchester United
Belgian forward Romelu Lukaku will make his much anticipated Premier League debut with Manchester United against a side he’s scored in seven straight league encounters between 2013 and 2016.
The 24-year old has had a prolific individual campaign for Everton and anything less than 25 goals for United in his first season with the club under a manager he knows well enough and with better service around him, should be considered failure.
His innate poacher instincts will come in handy for a side who have had the poorest conversion rate among the top seven sides and could prove to be the difference between a battle for fourth and a push for the title.
Javier Hernandez – West Ham United
In one of his earlier admissions in his first season with Manchester United, Mourinho touched on his admiration for Javier Hernandez, a player, according to him, would have remained at Old Trafford under his management – which tells everything about the kind of difference the Mexican international can make to any team in the league.
A natural goalscorer is exactly what the Hammers were crying for in the transfer window, and with Hernandez and his ability to be at the right place at the right time, West Ham could look to build around a forward with Premier League experience and goal-scoring acumen.
Manchester United showed glimpses of what they could do against an almost full strength Real Madrid in the second half in Skopje – and they looked as cohesive and dangerous on the break as they have been in the last few years. That should give them the confidence to prevent any potential upset on Sunday.
Manchester United 3-1 West Ham United