Manchester United travel to Upton Park to face West Ham knowing that a victory would take them within four points of an historic 20th League title.
The win at Stoke last Sunday opened up a 15 point gap at the top of the table, as the Reds bounced back in confident fashion after the disappointing derby defeat.
The Red Devils started brightly and Michael Carrick’s stabbed effort gave United the lead within five minutes and despite struggling to create any clear cut chances, the points were secured when Robin van Persie calmly converted from the penalty spot after he had been tripped.
It was important for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men to get back to winning ways especially bearing in mind what happened last season and they should head to East London in buoyant mood, knowing they are on the verge of bringing the title back into the red half of Manchester.
They are in such a commanding position because they have just kept winning football matches, with the loss to City being the first since way back in November when United went down 1-0 at Norwich.
They head into the game against the Hammers having won eight out of their last nine games in the league, although they have averaged less than two goals a game in that time, coinciding with Van Persie’s struggles to find the net in recent weeks.
However the lack of goals has not proved problematic for the Reds with United starting to look a lot more disciplined and diligent in defence.
In their last seven league wins they have not conceded a single goal and it seems as though the early season defensive problems have been fixed by Ferguson, giving his players a chance to grind out victories when it matters most.
West Ham take on United in indifferent form having only won three games in their last ten but they are unbeaten since mid March and with Andy Carroll, Matt Jarvis and Kevin Nolan, they have players that can cause the Reds all sorts of problems.
Team Selection Thoughts
David de Gea has improved as the season has gone on and Sunday’s game showed just how well he has adapted to life in the Premier League, easily dealing with the aerial bombardment to keep his tenth clean sheet of the season. The mistakes which were pounced upon by the media early on in the season have dried up and he has continued to grow in stature and confidence with every game. Anders Lindegaard is a good keeper with a lot of potential but with De Gea in the form he is, there is no chance that Sir Alex will rotate.
Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic helped ensure that United earned a clean sheet at the Britannia on Sunday with a brilliant defensive display but both could be rested for the trip to Upton Park, with Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling ready to fill in. Ferguson might only want to rest one however and if that is the case it is likely that Rio will drop out, although the manager has said that Vidic isn’t fully fit. Phil Jones looks set to continue at right back after impressing on Sunday while Patrice Evra will start on the left.
Against City last week United struggled to get hold of the ball and found themselves outnumbered at times but on Sunday they completely dominated. Michael Carrick, an ever present in the centre this season, started alongside Wayne Rooney with Shinji Kagawa drifting in from the left and it produced a fluid, technically brilliant triumvirate. They moved the ball neatly at pace with Rooney coming to the fore, spraying passes to all corners of the pitch. Ferguson could continue with the same midfield three although Tom Cleverley, who scored at Upton Park in the FA Cup, could return to freshen the side up. Antonio Valencia looked more like his old self at the weekend, running with the ball from deep and taking players out of the game so he could retain his place. Ashley Young remains sidelined with an ankle injury while Nani might have to settle for a place on the bench considering his lack of minutes recently.
Van Persie was understandably relieved to find the net against Stoke after going five league games without a goal and he could now go on a run as the season draws to a close. He could be partnered by Javier Hernandez again although it depends if Sir Alex decides to keep Rooney in midfield or move him back to his favoured striking role.
Here, at Stretford End Arising we spoke to Iain Dale from West Ham Till I Die and asked his thoughts on the upcoming game and more:
1. What are your thoughts on Wednesday’s game? What team is Sam Allardyce likely to select and what formation will he adopt? What weaknesses in United’s team will Allardyce look to exploit?
You mean you have weaknesses? Do tell me what they are because I’m damned if I have spotted them! We’re three games unbeaten and are playing well. I think we will go into the match with some confidence. The key is not to concede early on. He will continue with a 4-5-1 formation with Andy Carroll up front and Matt Jarvis and Vaz Te on the wings. The midfield 3 will be Nolan, Diame and O’Neill, with Tomkins, Collins O’Brien and Demel forming the back four.
2. What are your thoughts on West Ham’s 2012-13 season? What were your expectations for the season and have they been met?
To be honest most of us would have settled for 17th at the start of the season. But our great start meant that we’ve all thought we could at least settle for mid table mediocrity. A 10th place finish doesn’t look unlikely. We’ve never been lower than 14th so it has been a very good season and one we can build on. Sam has made some astute signings.
3. Who have been West Ham’s best players this season?
I think Andy Carroll and Mo Diame have been outstanding. If Carroll hadn’t been injured for so long I have no doubt he’d be well into double figures. He’s now scored 5 in 7. He brings so much to the team even when he doesn’t score. No team has managed to combat his aerial threat and he is no slouch on the floor either. His holdup play is magnificent. I just wish sometimes Sam would play a 4-4-2 as I think he could play well with a smaller strike partner. Diame is an ox. He has a fantastic engine and his driving runs through midfield are something to behold. He is certainly in with a shout for the Hammer of the Year award.
4. What are your thoughts on Allardyce? Is he the right man to take West Ham forward?
I wasn’t a fan at the start but I have to take my hat off to him. He had a difficult start, having to take over from Avram Grant who had totally lost the dressing room. Sam is like Sir Alex. He commands immediate respect. They all want to play for him. He’s imposed some discipline and backbone and enabled the team to play hard as well as prettily. I think most of us want him to sign a new contract. There are rumours that Villa are sniffing around him but I can’t believe he would want to go there. Not with the prospect of the Olympic Stadium in the offing.
5. What are your thoughts on Ravel Morrison’s season at Birmingham and his future?
This boy has it all, but can he ever be disciplined enough to make it big? I suppose time will tell. Sir Alex didn’t show him the door for no reason. I would love to see him make it big at West Ham. He will have a chance, but only one chance. In pre season he was said to look red hot but he was so disruptive Sam had to send him away. Let’s hope he has finally grown up,
6. What are your thoughts on Andy Carroll? Do you hope he becomes a permanent signing?
I really do. See above! I think he has been a revelation. In virtually every match he has played in he has either been man of the match or scored at least a 7 out of 10. If he could play alongside a prolific goalscorer I think we’d be almost unbeatable – but everyone plays 4-5-1 these days. So we need to get more goals from midfield. I think if we can get him for anything under £15 million it will be a great deal for us.
7. Are you for or against the move to the Olympic Stadium? Is a new stadium needed for West Ham to progress as a football club?
My heart wants to stay at Upton Park, but my head knows that’s wrong. Anyone who went to the Olympics will know what a fabulous stadium it is and it will give us a real chance of going into the big time. People say we won’t fill it but I reckon they’re wrong. We will fill it for about half the games I reckon. The club have done a terrific deal financially. Now all we have to do is build a team worthy of the stadium. And if you look at the current team we have Tomkins, Reid, Potts, Collison, Jarvis, Carroll, Cole and Vaz Te, all of whom should still be with us at the start of 2016-17.
Three Key Battles
Andy Carroll vs. Nemanja Vidic
Carroll has been in good form recently scoring three goals in his last two games and he poses a huge threat to United especially from set pieces. Vidic will have to be on the top of his game to subdue the Liverpool striker but if he plays like he did on Sunday then he will have every chance.
Robin van Persie vs. James Collins
West Ham will remember the stunning goal that Van Persie scored in the dying minutes of the FA Cup game back in January and after finding the net on Sunday he will be desperate to go on a scoring run. Collins will be tasked with keeping the Dutchman quiet and although he is a proficient defender on his day, he might find it difficult.
Mohamed Diame vs. Michael Carrick
Carrick has been superb for United this season, controlling games and setting the tempo but Diame will ensure that he has very little time on the ball. The West Ham midfielder also has the ability to drive forward and take people out of the game so it is key that Carrick helps United keep possession to allow them to dominate midfield.
A trip to Upton Park is always one greeted with pessimism and down the years the Reds have struggled in this particular part of London. However title number 20 is only seven points away and after Sir Alex set his players the target of winning every game from now until the end of the season the players have every incentive to perform to their maximum to ensure that they return to Manchester with three points. It will be a tight game but one that the Red Devils can win if they approach it in the right way.
SEA’s West Ham United vs. Manchester United match day forum thread HERE.
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