Jose Mourinho teetering as Man United's awful week ends in West Ham woe
LONDON -- Three points from West Ham's 3-1 win vs. Manchester United in the Premier League.
1. End nearing for Mourinho?
After the week that preceded this game, all Jose Mourinho needed was a quiet afternoon in east London. However, he and Manchester United rarely do things quietly and so, after Mourinho dropped Alexis Sanchez from the squad, his side conceded a goal in the sixth minute and were eventually well beaten by a West Ham side that did not even have to play that well.
It feels like Mourinho's exit from Old Trafford is close. United conceded three goals for the third time this season -- having not done so at all last term -- while the loss of three league games in seven and a total of 10 points is the same as David Moyes managed at the start of his ill-fated reign in 2013-14.
He may well pick a new fight to try to distract from this latest calamity, but even that isn't really working these days. United clearly don't particularly want to sack their manager, for a lack of other options if nothing else, but how bad do things have to get before they are left with no choice?
West Ham took the lead when Pablo Zabaleta ran behind Luke Shaw on the right and was played in by Mark Noble before squaring to Felipe Anderson, who had the space to Cruyff-turn the ball into the bottom corner. It was a goal as aesthetically pleasing to watch as it must have been infuriating to concede.
The Hammers' second was not quite as easy on the eye, but was equally shambolic from their opponents' perspective. Andriy Yarmolenko got possession on the right of the penalty area after a corner was half-cleared and after a brief pause, during which he was mystifyingly not tackled, he took a shot that deflected off Victor Lindelof and looped slowly into the net.
Man United's performance did not particularly improve in the second half and, not for the first time this week following his revelation that Paul Pogba would not captain the side again, Mourinho removed the French midfielder from a position of responsibility when he was replaced by Fred with 20 minutes remaining.
They pulled a goal back immediately after that change, substitute Marcus Rashford flicking home at the near-post from a corner, but West Ham's two-goal advantage returned almost immediately. A gap the size of a truck appeared in the away side's defence and, given Marko Arnautovic is rather smaller than your average 18-wheeler, he had time and space to pick his spot.
Shortly thereafter, home fans were greeting every pass with "ole." Manchester United were being mocked by a side that lost their first four games of the season.
2. Sanchez out, McTominay in as part of curious team selection
"Options, options," was Mourinho's pregame response when asked about the Sanchez omission and, while it was the most high profile of his choices, it did make sense.
The Chilean forward is becoming one of United's great transfer mistakes; he played badly last season and has been a liability in this campaign. Indeed, you could argue the decision was strong management, paying no heed to a player's reputation and purely selecting on form. It was, though, the most logical thing Mourinho has done all week.
Ultimately, it did no good. Replacement Anthony Martial did not show much more than Sanchez would have, which is not necessarily a strike against him. If, even when you make a decisive change the result is still the same, it suggests the problem is not with the personnel.
The selection of Scott McTominay in a three-man defence was something else entirely. It is a tactic Mourinho has tried before: The midfielder played in a back three for a spell during a preseason game and, in the 3-0 defeat to Tottenham, Ander Herrera was deployed there.
A 3-5-2 system was not a mistake per se; given the two wide players in West Ham's 4-3-3 tend to cut inside, the formation made some sense. But picking McTominay, with Eric Bailly on the bench and Phil Jones out but apparently not injured, felt like just another confused team selection by a floundering manager.
Moreover, having taken the decision to make a central-defensive change in the second half when Lindelof was withdrawn, McTominay was not only left on but exposed further as one of two middle men. This is a United team in a mess, led by a manager whose authority is disappearing, if not gone completely.
3. West Ham upwardly mobile under Pellegrini
From a West Ham perspective, it was easy to be nervous about their summer transfer business. Felipe Anderson and Andriy Yarmolenko were added to beef up the forward line, players who are explosively impressive and capable of slicing and dicing the best defences in Europe on their day.
Equally, they carried significant elements of risk: Yarmolenko has a tendency to go missing and Anderson was not a regular for Lazio last season, suggesting that his fine form of the previous year, when Europe's biggest clubs were supposedly interested in him, had faded.
Given those two were joining Marko Arnautovic in Manuel Pellegrini's forward line, you have the potential for an attacking trio of wildly fluctuating abilities. However, recent games have shown the three are veering toward the ceiling of their potential, rather than the floor. All three scored were decisive on Saturday and more, encouragingly, they are already starting to gel superbly.
For much of the second half West Ham played on the counterattack and, when they moved forward, did so with great purpose, Anderson especially providing exceptional raking passes. Admittedly, they came up against a defence with roughly the strength of wet newspaper, but nevertheless took advantage.
The question is whether the trio can continue such excellence. If they can, early-season fears of calamity will feel like a lifetime ago.