When the opening fixtures to any season are announced, fans will always analyse it and attempt to determine if it’s an easy start or a tough one. Last season, West Ham at home was one of many frustrating home draws United experienced against lesser opposition. This game would go some way to show how far they have improved on last year’s outfit after what looks a successful transfer window. United passed that test emphatically and set a marker down for the rest of the league, instantly waltzing to the top of the table in the process.
After dabbling with a back three during preseason and even using it against Real Madrid in the Super Cup, United lined up in a 4-2-3-1. Matic deputised alongside Pogba as the deepest two in midfield, rather than sitting behind him and a Herrera in a 4-3-3 as many had predicted prior to this season. Lukaku also made his Premier League debut as a lone starter, Mourinho including Rashford in the side out on the left. There was no place in the eleven for Victor Lindelof. West Ham lined up in a 4-3-3 very much set up to primarily stop United scoring and trying to steal a goal on the break, with former United player Javier Hernandez making his debut for the Hammers.
United started impressively, controlling the game completely and after twenty minutes they had their first real chance, a beautiful slide rule pass from Mkhitaryan sent through Mata, who after having his shot saved, crossed for Lukaku on the edge of the six-yard box. However, he was unable to get the shot off under pressure from Masuaku and Ogbonna who scrambled it clear.
Ten minutes on, Pogba left Noble for dead 30 yards out, before hooking the ball over the West Ham defence to Mata, ghosting in at the near post. Rather than shoot, he attempted to play in Lukaku for a tap in. Ogbonna managed to get in his way and clear, a more ruthless player than the diminutive Spaniard would have attempted to score at the first attempt.
Luckily, United now have such a player who went some way to repaying his £75m price tag after half an hour. The imperious Matic won the ball off Obiang on the edge of the centre circle and squared to Rashford. The young Mancunian carried the ball unopposed to the edge of the West Ham box. He set himself as if to spray it wide, before slotting the ball in the same channel United had twice exploited earlier. This time the giant Belgian made no mistake, sweeping the ball in off the near post before wheeling away in front of the Stretford End.
United went in at half time completely untroubled by a largely anonymous West Ham, other than a shot easily saved by De Gea, and somewhat surprisingly Nemanja Matic had been the most impressive player on the park. Rather than simply being the destroyer in midfield many believed United had signed, he displayed an impressive range of passing and even found time to go on a marauding run into West Ham’s defensive third before half time. Right before the whistle, inside his own half, he dragged the ball back and played it away with an air of a man playing against children. Blink and you’d think he was wearing slippers.
United started the second half really needing a goal to confirm the win. Rashford, who had done okay in the first half, started particularly brightly, using his pace to attack the ageing Zabaleta. At one point he was unleashed wide on the left, only to sweep the ball wide of the far post.
Just as the feeling of ‘here we go again’ was starting to set in around the stadium, Lukaku scored and effectively put the game to bed on 52 minutes. Rashford, on yet another marauding run, was brought down by the glacially paced Zabaleta. From the resulting free kick, Mkhitaryan deftly lifted the ball into the six-yard box, where Lukaku was able to nod home past the scarecrow like Joe Hart.
Around the hour, Arnautovic managed to scare United by beating Blind in the air with a header that looped over De Gea and kissed the top of the bar. A better team may have threatened more and United must be wary that in future not every team will be as limp up front as West Ham were today.
With West Ham tiring and space opening up, Rashford was now unstoppable. Time and time again he sprinted down the wing like a raptor thirsty for blood. Zabaleta, surely now wondering why he chose to move to West Ham, couldn’t deal with his electric pace and bravery in possession. Off several of Rashford’s runs, Lukaku and Pogba went close again, before the teenager, on yet another adventure out wide turned inside and unleashed a shot that completely bypassed the keeper. Sadly it hit the far post before spinning back across goal and out of play.
Mourinho made an interesting substitution in the 76th minute when Fellaini replaced Mata. With West Ham there for the taking and United creating chance after chance, Mourinho chose to solidify a 2-0 lead rather than chase a 3-0 one. Last season this kind of change often cost United in games against the so-called lesser sides. Time will tell which strategy will serve United best; today it turned out to be the correct one.
Rashford was later replaced for Martial, who in the 88th minute added the third. Pogba played the ball to Mkhitaryan, who drilled it at the Frenchmen’s feet. After shunting it out from under himself and into his stride, he then slotted the ball past Joe Hart. Right before full time, Pogba strode forward under little pressure then tucked it away to add the fourth to round off a terrific individual display.
Prior to the game, United would have been satisfied with a victory and a clean sheet. Being able to enjoy total domination over West Ham United, getting a 4-0 win in the league for the first time since 2014 and going top of the table on the opening day is as close to a perfect performance as you can get. In Rashford, Lukaku, Pogba and Matic they have some of the very best players in the league. There will certainly be tougher games this season and there will definitely be tougher opponents, but in this performance, this team showed it might have enough to go all the way.