WEST HAM UNITED
Old Trafford, Greater Manchester
21 December 2013, 1500 GMT
Sam Allardyce’s West Ham travel to Old Trafford over the weekend as they meet the reigning Champions for the first time this season. Historically, this has been a tough trip for the Hammers. In the last 5 meetings between the clubs on this ground, West Ham have always faced defeat, without scoring a single goal. The picture hardly improves if the consideration is expanded to the last 10 meetings on all grounds between the club with Manchester United winning 8 and drawing one and West Ham logging the sole victory in a 4-0 result at Boleyn Ground in 2010 in a League Cup fixture. Of the 8 away games that Sam Allardyce’s side have played this season, they have won only 1, drawn 3 and lost the remaining 4.
Manchester United had a horrible start to the month when both Everton and Newcastle were able to end their respective 20 and 40 year streaks of winless tortures at Old Trafford. A midweek European fixture, where Shakhtar Donetsk traveled to Old Trafford, allowed Manchester United to prevent a third consecutive loss at home before they came back strongly, dominating Aston Villa in a game that ended 3-0 for the traveling supporters. They then followed it up with a 2-0 thumping of Stoke City in the Capital One Cup quarter finals to make it three wins in a row in three different competitions.
Team News and Tactics
David Moyes always knew that he would have a very busy December and the month has given him a mixed bag so far. He had to suffer the ignominy of watching his current wards lose 1-0 to his erstwhile club, something he himself could never manage in the ten years he was at the helm at Everton. Newcastle added to the misery defeating Manchester United with a similar margin barely 4 days later. Combined with the draw at White Hart Lane, Man United had already dropped 8 points from three fixtures within a week.
As the media witch hunters swarmed baying for David Moyes’ head, Shakhtar Donetsk landed up at Old Trafford allowing the desperate Manchester United team to log a victory albeit at the European level. The fillip, however, from topping their Champions League group carried Man United into the away fixture at Villa Park with a confidence that showed in their performance on pitch. Missing former Arsenal striker Robin van Persie through injury, United looked like the team of old as they passed and crossed with menace. Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley both managed to clear their respective goal droughts by getting onto the score sheet while United were plainly unlucky to have a couple of other chances go inches past the goal. The performance was carried over into the Cup tie against Stoke City that saw Manchester United proceed to the semi-finals of the tournament on the back of a 2-0 victory.
David de Gea is having a stellar season between the sticks and has cemented his place as the default No. 1 for the Old Trafford outfit. He didn’t have much to do in the Villa game but still managed to pull off a couple of superb saves to keep a well deserved clean sheet. In the Cup tie against Stoke, he wasn’t even made to work as the home side had 0 shots on target.
After a long time, the whole team is performing and David Moyes has some selection luxuries he can take while picking his outfield players. Evra for one would be on his radar. The left back has been off pace for a couple of seasons now. He is definitely a key player for United with his dangerous forward runs with the ball and the constant goal threat he provides in the opponent’s box off set pieces. His goal mid-week against Stoke from open play only works in his favour. He is, however, slowing down with age and is often found stranded up the field when a counter attack begins on the United goal. Moyes may want to consider rotating him more frequently with Buttner and Fabio but for now Evra will start at LB. Jones and Evans did a solid number in central defense against Aston Villa. Against Stoke, Smalling stepped into the CB position releasing Phil Jones into the midfield where he has performed admirably well so far to contain opposition attacks. Jones has shown a marked improvement in awareness and positioning and is usually first to the ball. Combined with his tackling and aerial abilities he is quickly becoming the kind of utility player Sir Alex Ferguson prized in his Manchester United side.
The performances of these three players has eased the pressure somewhat on the elder statesmen of United’s defence, Ferdinand and Vidic. David Moyes is not under immediate pressure to play both these players on a regular basis and can allow them larger gaps in playing time ala Ryan Giggs. Rafael made a rare start this season against Aston Villa but his understanding with Antonio Valencia was superb and sufficient to terrorise Luna throughout the match down that flank. He reprised this performance against Stoke in the mid-week Cup tie and it would be a surprise if he does not make the cut to start on right back on Saturday.
Manchester United’s midfield has been the cause for concern by far for the last couple of seasons. With the recent Achilles injury to Carrick putting him out for a couple of months, the trouble has only deepened. However, there are some signs of improvement. Valencia, Januzaj and Cleverley put in a superb shift alongside the crafty old Ryan Giggs in midfield against Aston Villa. Giggs, however, may not be fresh enough to play over the weekend. David Moyes has rightly taken to wrapping his aging midfield maestro in cotton wool, unveiling him every once in a while to devastating effect. Cleverley may get an extended run thanks to his performances against Aston Villa and Stoke. This means that the second central midfield position is up for grabs. Amidst reports that Fellaini may have a back injury, it is likely that Moyes would start Jones alongside Cleverley in midfield to give some cover to the defence as well as have attacking options in midfield.
Man United supporters received an early Christmas present when Darren Fletcher made his first senior team appearance since Boxing Day last year, when he was subbed on in the Villa game. He followed it up with a sub cameo in the Stoke game as well, however, it is unlikely that Fletcher would start a game at the top level so soon after his return from a serious illness. Valencia’s recent performances have not done him any harm either and he should be a certainty to start at Old Trafford. Ashley Young returned to the starting line up against Stoke where he was busy throughout the match down the left flank. He capped off his performance with a goal and an assist for Evra’s goal.
David Moyes would be very tempted to play young star Adnan Januzaj to exploit the lack of pace down West Ham’s flank. However, keeping in mind the physicality of the Hammers’ midfielders, it may be a more prudent decision to play Young down the left flank instead. Wayne Rooney, who has so often played the playmaker’s role this season for his team, has picked up a groin injury. Although Moyes has played down the seriousness of the injury he may consider resting Wayne Rooney just a little while longer to allow him to recover as well as to avoid burn out. In Rooney’s absence, Shinji Kagawa could well be in with a shout for the central playmaker’s role, which is his natural position. He has already shown the impact he can have in that position in the Champions League tie away at Bayer Leverkusen and Rooney’s unavailability may be the perfect opportunity to play the Japanese International for an extended period in his favoured position.
Manchester United would be without Robin van Persie for at least a month as he recovers from a thigh injury. This leaves Javier Hernandez and Welbeck as the only options available to Moyes for the striker’s position. Welbeck recently scored a brace against Aston Villa to end a goal scoring drought. Combined with his tireless work rate and perseverance, he is a prime candidate to start the game. Hernandez, on the other hand, is the craftier of the two. He is nimble on his feet and can easily spring an offside trap when West Ham United play a high defensive line that they are so often liable to. His anticipation of the key pass and his natural instinct as a striker may, however, edge him forward into the starting position ahead of the English International.
Expected starting line-up (4-2-3-1): David de Gea (GK); Rafael, Smalling, Evans, Evra; Jones, Cleverley; Valencia, Kagawa, Young; Hernandez
West Ham United
Sam Allardyce has some major headaches in terms of team selection for the weekend. His team are not performing well at all. They have not won a match since their November end encounter with Fulham and when they had a chance to improve their standings facing relegation zone Sunderland, they squandered it with the match petering out into a tame draw.
The manager has already acknowledged that his job may be on the line following a string of poor performances that has seen his side languish at the foot of the table ominously close to the dreaded bottom three. He did get a very important win against Spurs in the mid-week Cup fixture but his injury list seems to be getting longer with every passing match. A long term injury to record signing, Andy Caroll has seen the English international out of action since the start of the season. The big striker arrived as part of a Liverpool troika that made their way to West Ham after a busy transfer window period for the Hammers last summer.
He is now joined in the recovery room by Stewart Downing, who suffered an Achilles injury while playing against former club, Liverpool a week ago. The injury could sideline the midfielder till March next year. The third, Joe Cole, was forced to take over on the wings in Downing’s absence but age has caught up with the English International and he was knackered by the time he was subbed off with 15 minutes remaining. Star striker Vaz Te would also be unavailable, leaving Allardyce with the option of playing either Cole or Maiga. With Cole picking up a nick in the Cup Tie against Spurs midweek, Maiga becomes an automatic selection to the striker’s position. Maiga’s physique allows him to hold the ball in possession which can be advantageous against the weak United midfield. He does however lack in the finishing department, clearly demonstrated by the fact that Maiga’s goal against Spurs in the mid-week fixture was his first in over a year.
Ex-Manchester United academy product Ravel Morrison is sure to start in the central midfield. The youngster has exceptional control on the ball and a good passing range to go with it. He does tend to showboat a bit and his reluctance to try to do it all on his own has definitely cost West Ham a few goals. However, his potential in unquestionable and in Allardyce’s situation where he has a shortage of good attacking players, Morrison is all but confirmed for a start against his old club. Captain Mark Noble should find himself in the starting 11 after taking a break from the mid week fixture while Mohamed Diame’s string of recent good performances should guarantee him a place in the starting lineup as well. Joe Cole looked tired after having played 2 games in almost 4 days and West Ham may have to rest him.
Kevin Nolan is still serving his three match suspension for a red card. In his absence, Allardyce had picked Matt Jarvis for a start against Sunderland. The midfielder was disappointing, squandering possession too cheaply in Sunderland’s defensive third allowing them to break often. He was, in fact, substituted before the hour mark with Jack Collison, who added impetus to the Hammers’ attack. Jarvis’ display against Spurs mid-week was no better as he hardly provided any threat down the wing. He did however manage to get his name on the scoresheet with West Ham’s equaliser. This may mean that Alou Diarra gets the nod for a starting position in the midfield alongside Jack Collison on the wings ahead of Jarvis.
McCartney and James Collins have been putting in decent shifts at the full back positions for the last couple of fixtures for the Hammers and this should guarantee them a starting spot in Big Sam’s starting lineup. Guy Demel’s positioning has been suspect at times. This may mean that Collins, who started against Spurs at CB, could be pushed out onto the right to make space for O’Brien, who put in a solid performance at White Hart Lane, in central defence. Tomkins, who again performed well against Sunderland over the weekend, was rested for the Cup tie and so should be fresh and ready to start in central defence at Old Trafford.
Expected starting line-up (4-3-3): Jussi Jaaskelainen (GK); Collins, O’Brien, Tomkins, McCartney; Diarra, Noble, Diame; Morrison, Maiga, Collison
- Manchester United have won their last 6 home matches against West Ham in all competitions.
- Manchester United have kept a clean sheet in 8 of their last 10 home matches against West Ham in all competitions.
- West Ham United have lost their last 3 away matches in the Barclays Premier League.
Player to watch out for
Ravel Morrison (West Ham United)
It is a return to Old Trafford for the Manchester United academy product for the first time since he left the Red Devils. While his potential was unquestionable, his temperament wasn’t. The youngster has exceptional control on the ball and a good passing range to go with it. He does tend to showboat a bit and his reluctance to try to do it all on his own has definitely cost West Ham a few goals. He is sure to start for the West Ham United in central midfield, and will play a crucial role in determining whether the Hammers get something out of this game.
Manchester United 2-0 West Ham United
Big Sam Allardyce will be under pressure at this time, but going to Old Trafford and pulling off a win to keep some distance from the relegation zone is not the easiest thing to do, even allowing for Manchester United’s appalling run of form at home. Despite the absence of Robin van Persie due to injury, Manchester United have enough quality in their lineup, spearheaded by Wayne Rooney. The stage is well and truly set for a first home win in the Premier League in six weeks.