Upton Park, London
April 2, 2011, 5:15 PM IST [ESPN]

The international break is out of the way, as the Barclays Premier league returns to action this weekend with Man United travelling to London to face a much improved West Ham side. Avram Grant’s Hammers have found a new wind in their sails and are slowly clawing their way out of the dreaded relegation dog fight. However, with the League table looking unconventionally close this season, especially at the bottom, nobody is looking safe at the moment. The East London outfit has already defeated Man United in the League cup this campaign and would be looking to emulate their feat in the league as well.

Can he mastermind a great escape?

West Ham have been in good form recently as a four match unbeaten run has seen them climb out of the drop zone for the first time this season. The Hammers have also rediscovered their scoring touch, having scored nine goals in the last four games, which also include their goalless draw at White Hart Lane.

Manchester United, on the other hand, face a hectic month of April as they continue their quest towards another treble. The international break could not have come at a better time for Sir Alex as his team had suffered a dip in form in the previous few matches, winning just one out of their last three. Also, United would be keen to turn around their horrendous away form which has seen them win just four matches on the road. With Arsenal breathing down their neck and Chelsea recovering from  their mid-season blip, Sir Alex very well knows that every game is a must win from now on.

Team News and Tactical Brief

West Ham United

Avram Grant would be sweating on the fitness of Scott Parker, who suffered shoulder and calf injuries on international duty. The midfielder faces a late fitness test, but given the importance of the fixture, he is expected to make the starting line-up. Striker Fredric Piquionne is fit again after missing the game against Tottenham due to a toe injury. Rest of the squad is fit and available for selection.

Grant faces a selection problem with all four of his strikers – Piquionne, Ba, Keane and Cole fit for the game, but the manager is likely to go with the pair of Ba and Piquionne. Parker, as usual, will be sitting in front of the defence, breaking United’s play and making late runs to be a part of the attack. Noble will partner Parker in the central midfield, with O’ Neill and Hitzlsperger patrolling the right and left flanks respectively. While O’ Neill would be running up and down the flank, Hitzlsperger would be drifting in from time to time making a three man midfield for West Ham, allowing Wayne Bridge to march forward from his left-back position. With a result in sight, Grant could bring off one of his strikers for a wide player, pushing Hitzlsperger in the middle.

football formations

Manchester United

Sir Alex would be thanking his stars for the timely international break, as it gives his injured players a chance to recover before the tough run-in. Also, the manager would be glad that all the players on international duty have returned unscathed. Captain Vidic is fit again and is expected to be leading the side out at Upton Park. The manager has also been given an injury boost with Rio Ferdinand likely to be fit for the game against Fulham next week, having initially being ruled out for the season. Park, Owen and Anderson are also fit for the game but all are expected to be on the bench. The problem for the manager is at the right back position with Rafael, Brown and O’Shea all ruled out. Also out are Darren Fletcher, who is suffering from a virus, and Owen Hargreaves, who has suffered yet another setback as he dislocated his shoulder in training. Paul Scholes and Jonny Evans are suspended for the game.

Sir Alex would surely have an eye on the Champions League quarter-final at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday while selecting his team. However, he has no choice in defence with only four fully fit defenders. Fabio will get the nod for the right back position with all the favoured players for the position ruled out. He would be part of the defence comprising Vidic, Smalling and Evra, with Van Der Sar guarding the goal. Nani and Valencia are likely to take up the flanks with Carrick and Giggs playing in central midfield as they did against Bolton in the last league game. Sir Alex is likely to go with Rooney and Berbatov as the former was released from international duty and the latter, being already retired, has rested for two weeks. On the other hand, Hernandez had played a game on Tuesday before making a long trip back to Europe from the West. Rooney is likely to drop back and make it a five man midfield for United as he has done in the past few matches.

Key Match Facts

1) Hammers have lost just 1 of the last 7 leauge games.

2) Rooney is two short of 100 league goals for United.

3) United have scored with 18% of their shots – the best record in the league.


Scott Parker, the saviour of West Ham United.

Scott Parker (West Ham United): The midfielder has been influential in keeping West Ham involved in the relegation fight, else they would have been long gone. His brilliant displays have earned him a lot of praise and more importantly an England call-up. He would once again be the lynch pin of the Hammers midfield and also on top of United’s plans, if Sir Alex has to secure a desired result.

TheHardTackle’s PREDICTION

West Ham United 1-1 Manchester United

United’s away woes will continue as they would struggle against a rampant Hammers. With a depleted squad and bigger games coming up, United could drop another two points in the title race.