West Ham United-Manchester United Preview
The first season of the Jose Mourinho era at Manchester United could be considered a success since he got them into the Champions League for this campaign and won silverware in the forms of the Europa League and EFL Cup titles.
Whether the second season results in a Premier League title is up for grabs as the Red Devils open play Sunday at Old Trafford against West Ham United.
To put the epic success of United in perspective, consider they are in danger of going five consecutive seasons in the top flight without a league title for the first time since 1975-92, with that final campaign marking the end of the First Division era.
Sir Alex Ferguson won 13 Premier League titles at Old Trafford, but his last one in 2013 also marked United's last time atop the table at season's end. Successors David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal could get no higher than fourth, and even with Mourinho's two titles, Manchester United (18-15-5) were a distant sixth to his former team Chelsea at last season's end, 24 points adrift.
But with the return to Champions League play this season, Mourinho realises the stakes are higher, and so are the expectations.
"Manchester United are one of the top three football clubs in the world, no doubt about it, but the football club is one thing and the team's credentials going into a competition are another thing entirely," he told The Telegraph. "I want the team to be on a par with the club's history, which is something I've been lucky enough to feel at every club. Last season we won trophies. We'll improve the team and try to be at that level, to constantly be improving.
"And I think we're going to reach that level as a football team in the next couple of years."
As he does every offseason regardless of his touchline of the moment, Mourinho demanded a bevy of high-priced and talented players to build a title-winner to his exacting specifications. To vice chairman Ed Woodard's credit, it can be argued the most important of his manager's targets were acquired.
The primary one was striker Romelu Lukaku, with United paying an eye-watering £75 million transfer fee to Everton for the Belgium international's services, and beating out Chelsea.
In the midfield, the most influential purchase is the most recent one, with Nemanja Matic surprisingly reuniting with Mourinho from Chelsea for £40 million. In one fell swoop, United not only strengthened their midfield considerably but also weakened the reigning title-holders. Victor Lindelof was acquired from Benfica for just under £31 million and has the potential to form a central defence pairing with fellow 23-year-old Eric Bially that could last well into the next decade.
All three newcomers were in action Tuesday night in Macedonia, where United lost to Champions League winners Real Madrid 2-1 in the UEFA SuperCup. Lukaku opened his United scoring account by slotting home the rebound of a shot by Matic, but also missed a quality scoring chance. Still, Matic is confident Lukaku will show the form of the 25-goal scorer he was for the Toffees last season.
"It's very important for us that our strikers score goals," Matic told MUTV. "It's very important for confidence. As you know he missed a very good chance but this can happen, it's football. But I am happy for him that he scored a goal after that and I'm sure he will continue to score goals and that he will score many this season."
If Lukaku's form against West Ham from his Everton and West Brom days are any indication, there's a very strong likelihood he will be on the scoresheet. He has nine goals in 12 lifetime matches against the Hammers, with that goal-scoring streak ending at nine matches in Everton's scoreless draw at Olympic Stadium in April.
While Manchester United have reloaded for their higher-profile two-front campaign, West Ham United have made moves that, on paper, could have them contending for a spot in European play for 2018-19.
The Hammers (12-9-17) slumped badly in their first season at Olympic Stadium after moving from Upton Park, crashing out of Europa League play before the Premier League season via playoff and then finished 11th behind West Brom on goal difference. Manager Slaven Bilic was on the hot seat all season, Dimitri Payet forced his way out of London back to France, and a spate of injuries to Andy Carroll and other first-team players led to an uneven and miserable season in London.
This summer, they added former Manchester City defender Pablo Zabaleta on a free transfer, took in former City No. 1 goalkeeper Joe Hart on loan and added former Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez and top-line Stoke City forward Marko Arnautovic, all for under £45 million.
For the player nicknamed "Chicharito," it will be an immediate homecoming as Hernandez scored 59 goals for Manchester United in 157 games.
"I don't know how to describe the fact we are playing Manchester United in my first game for West Ham, but I can just say it's luck," Mexico's all-time leading scorer told West Ham's official website after being signed from German side Bayer Leverkusen. "I'm very lucky to be going back to my old club, to my old home, to my old house, to start my new chapter in this second part of my English life and in the Premier League."
West Ham also don't appear to be done with their summer shopping list, having reportedly made a £27 million bid for Sporting Lisbon midfielder William Carvalho, a member of Portugal's European Championship-winning squad in 2016. If accepted, that bid would break the club record of £24 million spent on Arnautovic.
The teams played to a 1-all draw at Old Trafford in league play last season. The Red Devils, though, would roll to a 4-1 EFL Cup win there three days later and then won 2-0 at Olympic Stadium.
West Ham have endured mainly nightmares at "The Theatre of Dreams," having gone 0-3-9 since a 1-0 win May 13, 2007, and are 2-3-19 there in the Premier League era.
Updated August 11, 2017