Preview: United look to restore dominance at Old Trafford
By Simon Evans
MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - Manchester United begin their bid to be genuine Premier League title contenders on Sunday when they face West Ham United knowing that an improvement in home form is vital.
Since Alex Ferguson retired after the 2013 title win United have not finished in the top three but some serious investment in new players gives manager Jose Mourinho, starting his second season at the club, the sense that things are coming together.
"I’m so happy to be the manager of these guys, I told them a few days ago that during my long career I never had a group that I liked so much, like I like them," he said, after United's 2-1 loss to Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup in Skopje on Tuesday.
"I’m really happy to be with them and I’m going to fight with them all the way, so let's go on Sunday. Old Trafford is waiting for us and I think Old Trafford has a reason to be behind us," he said.
Those reasons for excitement include the arrival of striker Romelu Lukaku for 75 million pounds ($97.42 million) from Everton, Chelsea's Serbia midfielder Nemanja Matic (40 mln) and Sweden defender Victor Lindelof from Benfica (30 mln).
The trio give United a new spine to the team, though it remains to be seen if Lindelof, who has yet to get up to speed in pre-season, starts with Eric Bailly returning from a ban.
Home form let down United last season with their 10 home draws the highest in the league and the team had more wins away than at Old Trafford.
Belgium international Lukaku is expected to start up front but it is not clear how Mourinho will settle his attacking formation with Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial keen to start.
"I think they're in a real good position, the squad looks strong and I think how Rashford, Martial and Lukaku play will determine what happens," said former United defender Gary Neville.
"In the last two or three seasons they've been defensively okay but not scoring enough goals has hurt United and I think there are goals in the side now. They have to deliver and kill teams off," added the Sky Sports pundit.
West Ham have also been active in the transfer market after flirting with the relegation zone last season and could feature Mexico international and ex-United striker Javier Hernandez in attack on Sunday.
Another former United forward, Wayne Rooney, will make his first Premier League start since rejoining boyhood club Everton when they host Stoke City at Goodison Park on Saturday.
Everton's Merseyside rivals Liverpool have a tricky start to the campaign at Watford, who are under new manager Marco Silva after the Portuguese joined the London club having failed to keep Hull City in the top flight last season.
Champions Chelsea could give a debut to Spain striker Alvaro Morata at home to Burnley, while last season's runners-up Tottenham Hotspur, who have yet to sign any players in the transfer window, visit promoted Newcastle United on Sunday.
Arsenal have kept hold of their Chile forward Alexis Sanchez but he will be missing for the opening match of the season on Friday against visitors Leicester City, whose key player Riyad Mahrez has also been the subject of transfer speculation.
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(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Ken Ferris)