London (AFP) – Manchester United crashed to a 3-1 defeat at West Ham on Saturday to record their worst league start in 29 years, leaving Jose Mourinho desperately seeking answers to a mounting crisis at the club.
United have just 10 points after seven Premier League games — that meagre haul plus their negative goal difference means this is their poorest start since 1989-90, when they had picked up seven points at this stage of the season.
United, who finished second last season behind Manchester City, already appear to be out of the title race and problems on the pitch are compounded by a growing rift between the manager and Paul Pogba.
West Ham made a mockery of their appalling record against the 20-times English champions at the London Stadium, with an early strike from Felipe Anderson and a Victor Lindelof own goal shortly before half-time leaving the disjointed visitors with a mountain to climb.
United pulled a goal back through substitute Marcus Rashford in the second half but Marko Arnautovic restored the two-goal cushion for West Ham minutes later to end the visitors’ hopes of a dramatic comeback.
Mourinho blamed the officials for West Ham’s first and third goals, saying the opener should have been flagged offside and the move that led to the Arnautovic goal included a foul on Rashford.
“We needed a good start and we didn’t have that good start. After the result on Tuesday (defeat to Derby in the League Cup) the team obviously needs positive things, positive feelings and to start losing after five minutes is not that positive start that you need.”
The United boss defended a tactical switch to bring in Scott McTominay alongside Chris Smalling and Lindelof in a back three and the decision to play Anthony Martial instead of the misfiring Alexis Sanchez, who was not even in the squad.
“I wanted to play Martial,” he said. “Something that you are asking for a long, long, long time to play Martial…. and at the same time I feel that we need quality on the ball, on the building up from the back and Scott McTominay has that quality with the ball.”
– Quick start –
United were off the pace from the first whistle and West Ham were rewarded on five minutes, when Mark Noble slid in Pablo Zabaleta down the right and the Argentine crossed for Anderson to flick the ball brilliantly past David de Gea.
The visitors started seeing more of the ball but still struggled to create meaningful chances and were punished just before half-time when an Andriy Yarmolenko shot looped into the net off Lindelof for an own goal.
Mourinho threw on Rashford shortly before the hour-mark and United went close to pulling a goal back when Marouane Fellaini powered a header downward only to see Lukasz Fabianski pull off a fine stop.
The United boss brought off Pogba — to a chorus of jeers from the home fans — and Martial, with Fred and Juan Mata sent on to perform a rescue act.
Within seconds they had pulled a goal back, when Rashford flicked home a Luke Shaw corner.
But the sense of hope did not last long as Arnautovic held his nerve to steer the ball past De Gea after a through ball from West Ham captain Mark Noble.
All eyes at the London Stadium were on Pogba after the French World Cup winner was stripped of the vice-captaincy before a League Cup defeat to Championship side Derby.
The following day Pogba was involved in a terse exchange with Mourinho on the training pitch, further evidence that the relationship between the pair is at breaking point.
The win for West Ham is a further sign that Manuel Pellegrini’s side have turned the corner after they started the season with four straight defeats in the Premier League.
Pellegrini said his side were deserving victors, despite Mourinho’s gripes over the officiating, and said he was surprised at the absence of Sanchez.
“I was surprised there was not Alexis Sanchez,” Pellegrini said of his fellow Chilean. “That for me was a relief because Alexis makes a real difference.”
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