Matic and Lukaku shine in Manchester United win over West Ham

Manchester United's Romelu Lukaku celebrates scoring his side's second goal of the game with Marcus Rashford (left) Paul Pogba (centre right) and Nemanja Matic (right) during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and West Ham United at Old Trafford in Manchester, England, Sunday, Aug. 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Dave Thompson)
AP Photo/Dave Thompson

Nemanja Matic and Romelu Lukaku got a perfect start to life with Manchester United as the duo played a major part in the 4-0 victory over West Ham United on Sunday at Old Trafford in the season opener.

Lukaku scored two goals, while Matic was bossing the midfield with his work ethic and physical play.

Lukaku, who joined United from Everton for a reported initial fee of £75 million, opened the scoring in the 33rd minute with a striker from inside the penalty area that went off the post and in behind Joe Hart in the West Ham net. Matic broke up the play and forced the ball out to Marcus Rashford, who ended up driving up the field before dishing the ball to Lukaku.

The Belgian striker then made it 2-0 in the 52nd minute with a powerful header on a set piece by Henrikh Mkhitaryan. With two goals in his first competitive game for the club (he did score against Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup earlier in the week, but that’s a glorified friendly), Lukaku is off to a great start and has already made himself the new darling of the United supporters.

United dominated the game against the Hammers, and it looked like the team had more fluidity in the passing game with more emphasis on getting the ball forward. Manager Jose Mourinho went with a two-man midfield with superstar Paul Pogba playing next to Matic. The Serbian international was brought in from reigning Premier League champions Chelsea for £40 million, and if the first game is anything to go by, he will play a pivotal role for the Red Devils this season. Matic’s tenacity freed up Pogba to make runs forward and be more involved in the attacking aspects of the game.

Matic brings an element of grit and skill that the club has been lacking since former captain Roy Keane left the club in 2005. Matic might not reach the same heights as the Irishman, who is a club legend, but he has that instinct of getting stuck in and not shying away from doing the dirty work that a lot of times goes unnoticed. Matic’s efforts did not go unnoticed on Sunday as he was voted Man of the Match.

Mourinho was pleased with what he saw from the duo against West Ham, and was quick to point out that they are high-quality players.

“First of all, [Lukaku and Matic] are obviously top players,” Mourinho told MUTV. “Secondly, they’ve played for years and years in the Premier League, so it’s nothing new for them — only the club and the colleagues, not even the manager as they worked with me before.”

Matic was happy to get off to a good start with his new club, and thanked his teammates for helping him assimilate into the group so quickly.

“Thanks to the guys, they have accepted me from my first day and I feel their support,” Matic told MUTV. “Thanks to them, I feel very comfortable and I feel like I will be here a long time. They have helped me, and I am happy if I give them something back, and that I helped us to win.

“We played good football, and I think our supporters enjoyed it as well. It’s good to start well with three points. The season is long, but we have to collect a lot of points and we’ve had a good start.

“It was great [to play at Old Trafford]. When you wear that [United] shirt, you feel some kind of pressure because this is a big club, but that’s why we are here.

“We know that it’s a big responsibility to play for Manchester United and I’m happy that we have started well and that I hope we continue like this. I’m sure this group can do good things.”

Adding two players of this caliber has raised the quality of the squad, and United should be aiming for at least a top-4 finish this season. The club is still a little light on the wingback positions, but with time left in the transfer window, that could change. It’s too early to clearly say that the Red Devils  are title contenders, but with the addition of Lukaku and Matic, the team has taken a big step in the right direction.

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