West Ham have been tricky opponents for United in the past, but rarely at Old Trafford. Under new manager, Avram Grant, they will be looking to buck a trend that has seen them defeated on each of their past three visits. Manchester United will feel they have a point to prove on many levels – three points quickly became one point at Fulham last week whilst rivals Chelsea have already racked up a goal difference of +12 after just two games.
West Ham’s season has yet to really kick into life. Two league defeats, away at Aston Villa and home against bogey team Bolton have left them 19th at this early stage of the season. Against Villa they were outplayed as they lined up in a 4-5-1. Their performance was described as ‘disjointed’ and ‘toothless’ by the BBC. A change to 4-4-2 at half time with the introduction of new signings Barrera and Piquionne didn’t provide any answers either.
West Ham fans were quietly pessimistic ahead of their game against Bolton. They had seen their side lose six successive games now to the Wanderers. They could have been forgiven for thinking it might be their day at half time with the score at 0-0. A missed Carlton Cole penalty and a host of chances had seen the Hammers very much on top. However three second half defensive lapses saw a 0-0 turn into a 1-3 home defeat (Noble with a late penalty for West Ham).
I wouldn’t be surprised to see West Ham come and play 4-5-1 like they did at Villa. Carlton Cole will try to replicate Zamora and bully the United defence should he get the service. Parker and Noble both played 90 mins against Oxford mid-week but I’d expect them to line up again in the middle alongside Kovac. West Ham tend to play better with two up front but I get the impression they will try to frustrate United and keep it tight before taking any risks.
As for the Reds. I don’t suppose there will be any changes to the back four that played against Newcastle and Fulham. Rafael, Brown, Smalling and Neville all played for the reserves against Man City during the week so it would be a surprise to see any of them come in to start. Certainly Ferguson will be hoping that the marking and organisation from set pieces in particular will be better this weekend after some strange lapses in concentration away at Fulham.
I believe that the boss will stick with a 4-4-2. The Fletcher-Scholes partnership that has seen the latter blossom again in recent weeks I don’t think will be tampered with. I’m finding it hard to decide who I think will play wide. Personally I don’t see Park being involved – he’s sometimes a negative selection at home due to his lack of flair. Valencia and Nani are the obvious choices but both had frustrating games at Fulham for different reasons. I think Giggs may be brought in for his first start and I think Nani may start on the right with Valencia handed a place on the bench. Providing Rooney has recovered from his stomach bug then it’s a straightforward selection of Rooney and Berbatov for me.
This is how I think United will line up:
The obvious player to point out for West Ham is Carlton Cole. 10 league goals in 30 league games last year brought him into consideration for England’s World Cup squad. He’s tall, strong and often leads West Ham through matches. Behind him will be Scott Parker – the engine of the West Ham team. He’ll no doubt get stuck in and try to lead them into breaks. I’m intrigued to see their new signing, Barrera. The young Mexican winger has a reputation for being very fast and tricky; a battle against O’Shea may be intriguing.
I’m sorry West Ham, but I can’t look beyond a home win. United will be angry with how the game against Fulham panned out. Many players will have had a rest whilst West Ham had cup action during the week. I’m going to predict a 5-0 thrashing – Rooney to get off the mark for the season in style with a hat-trick. I fancy a surprise scorer too, maybe Evra for a change. The 5th goal I’m going to give to Chicharito, his pace late on against a tired defence may be lethal.