Saturday, 22 March 2014

MATCH PREVIEW: West Ham United v Manchester United

There’s no rest for the wicked and so, just three days after producing the sort of performance we had been demanding since August, United turn their attention back to the Premier League, desperately hoping to build on Wednesday’s positives to arrive to Tuesday’s night derby in slightly more buoyant mood than they’ve been all season.
United have made their life complicated all season and Saturday’s trip to East London is far from being an appealing prospect, given the Reds’ seemingly unwavering determination to make things difficult for themselves whenever they face West Ham at Upton Park, where West Ham have won their last three league games and where United have conceded at least twice in their last four visits.

That’s partly because West Ham consider the fixture their cup final – West Ham fans, who obviously all support their local team, have somehow managed to convince themselves that they can count their club among United’s rivals – and partly because United have too often been intimidated by Big Sam’s troops and their physical approach.

Last season’s two trips to East London, saw United scrape two 2-2 draws, with Robin Van Persie twice rescuing the Reds, first with a superb late equaliser in the FA Cup, before repeating the feat in the league, as United clinched an important point in the race to their 20th title.

United could again find themselves under the cosh, particularly at the back, where Rio Ferdinand could be handed a second start in a couple days as Nemanja Vidic serves the first of his two-game ban, while Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans are still a doubt and might not be risked ahead of Tuesday.

United suffered Andy Carroll’s impact last season and the barrage of long balls – oh so unethical for a club that should embody the West Ham way – the Hammers launched towards British football’s most expensive man – try to say that without laughing, if you can – and if Ferdinand and Jones drop too deep, then United could be in trouble.

With RVP sidelined for up to six weeks, the stage is set for Wayne Rooney to start as centre-forward, with Juan Mata and Adnan Januzaj poised to return to the starting XI, after missing out on Wednesday, while Ashley Young could replace Antonio Valencia, merely on the basis that he can at least see out of both of his eyes.

Having impressed on Wednesday night, Danny Welbeck could also be involved, though Moyes might prefer to keep him fresh for Tuesday night, given that the one against Olympiakos was Welbz’s first start in eight games. Moyes has fiddled around with his starting XI too often this season and he still seems unsure over who to play behind the striker, given Mata, Januzaj and Welbeck have different qualities.

However, Van Persie’s absence offers David Moyes the chance of deploying Mata in his favourite number 10 role, rather than exile out wide.

Ryan Giggs will surely be rested after an impressive performance against Olympiakos, which means one between TClevz23 and Mr £27m – based on Wednesday night, Fellaini’s best position is next to the corner flag when defending a slender advantage in the dying minutes – could start alongside Michael Carrick – the prospect of a Fellaini – Cleverley partnership is too terrifying to even begin thinking about it.

Qualification to the Champions League’s quarter finals might have taken some pressure off Moyes’ shoulders, but the United manager needs a strong finish to the season if he is to hold onto his job and a trip to West Ham could be a lot more crucial than it might appear: a win will allow United to build some momentum ahead of the derby, while a defeat will shatter the already fragile feel good feeling generated from Wednesday night and will put Moyes under immense pressure yet again ahead of the derby.

We’ll find out soon enough whether Wednesday was a first step or just another false dawn.

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