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Key Battles: Manchester United form key to victory over West Ham

After a return to what can be seen to be ‘the United way’ on New Year’s Eve, Jose Mourinho’s men head to the London Stadium to face the Hammers for the third time this term. The last time Manchester United faced West Ham in the league, United were in dire need of three points to dig themselves out of a rut which did not appear as though it would relent. in contrast, the Reds arrive in East London on Monday on the back of four Premier League wins on the spin, with fifth place Manchester City firmly in their sights. Despite putting a cumulative five goals past West Ham this season, the London club still represent a potential banana skin for United on Monday and their key individuals will need to be marshaled well should the Mourinho’s men begin 2017 with a victory.

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, expect United to break through the midfield with devastating effect.

Daley Blind vs Michail Antonio

Assuming that Blind will retain his place at left-back from New Year’s Eve, 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 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, with his head – so Blind 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.

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