West Ham head to Old Trafford at the weekend in dire form at best, with only three wins to their name this season. However, the Hammers still have individuals who could pose significant issues for United on the day. It is battles with these players on Sunday which could decide whether or not United pick up the points that are so desperately needed.
Paul Pogba vs Pedro Obiang
Since his world record transfer in the summer, Pogba has been exceptional for Manchester United, creating the most chances and completing the most passes in the final third out of any United player, according to Squawka. However, arguably the most impressive element of Pogba’s game has been the way in which he shrugs off his opponent with apparent ease, allowing him the space to drive into and thrust United forward. At 6′ 1″ and not lacking in physical presence, Obiang may well represent the greatest physical test for Pogba in a United shirt and West Ham boss Slaven Bilic will no doubt instruct his uncapped Spaniard to get at the Frenchman. Should Obiang successfully restrict Pogba in these one-on-one encounters then a huge portion of United’s attacking force will be taken away, transversely, should Pogba get the better of his opponent in the engine room, don’t expect West Ham to spend too much time out of their own half.
Luke Shaw vs Michail Antonio
Assuming that Shaw will retain his place at left-back from Thursday night, his biggest task will be keeping Michael Antonio under lock and key. With West Ham lining up in a 3-4-3, for the most part, this season, Antonio will be relied upon to provide width down the right-hand side; so should Shaw keep him under wraps, one-half of West Ham’s width is eliminated. However, what is more crucial is that the United full-back remains astute to Antonio’s movement in the penalty area, drifting in at the back post. A tactic of the Hammers this season seems to be to provide service from the left flank as Antonio creeps up on his full back at the back post to head home. Antonio has scored six goals in that way this season, all with his head – so Shaw cannot allow him to find space in the box.
Antonio Valencia vs Dimitri Payet
Antonio Valencia has been superb for United at full-back this season, bullying his winger out of the game with his all round physical ability and increasingly impressive reading of the game defensively. However, Payet will pose a different type of opposition to Valencia than he has faced as yet this season. Payet won’t attempt to engage in a race with the Ecuadorian but what he will do is face Valencia up one on one and attempt to create himself a yard of space for a cross with some clever footwork. The United right-back has spent the vast majority of his career being taught what to do on the other side of this battle, not how to defend it, so he will have to keep his wits about him. Also, Payet won’t always operate in Valencia’s territory, the French international will drift in and out of this area, so again Valencia will have to remain astute to Payet’s comings and goings. It is important that the 31-year-old isn’t sucked into chasing Payet out of position, opening up gaps for Creswell to be slotted in, and that he retains his positional discipline when defending and passes Payet on to central players in those situations.
Should these battles be won in favour of United, the Red Devils should be able to express themselves freely going forward and a comfortable afternoon at Old Trafford can be expected.