Preview: United v West Ham United

Ravel Morrison

Injuries. Whether you believe Dutch fitness coach Raymond Verheijen is a publicity-seeking quack or a modern football scientist it is hard to ignore the charge; that Manchester United’s latest glut of injuries comes amid the training regime brought in by David Moyes and his coaching team. After all, Moyes has been clear that his preference is for more training intensity, including more running and less ball work. It is a philosophy that Verheijen dismissed as being “from Jurassic Park” earlier this season.

Indeed, United heads into the Christmas programme with injury concerns surrounding Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Michael Carrick, Marouanne Fellaini, Nemanja Vidic and Nani. More than £100 million worth of talent sat on the sidelines while United tries to chase down Arsenal’s 10 point lead. Given the paucity of talent available to Moyes and United’s league predicament – Verheijen’s is a charge worth answering.

“When United were in Sydney last July, I was there as well,” Verheijen, who has worked for Manchester City, Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, told NewsTalk.

“I went to the training sessions and I could see what they were doing with Robin van Persie. He had to do a lot of running work and sometimes he even had to do it twice a day. He missed the first week of pre-season so his fitness level was lower than the rest of the team. They immediately overtrained him. You don’t have to be Einstein to understand that is gambling.

“If you look at the track record of Moyes at Everton, in the nine pre-seasons that he did, he had seven or eight times an injury crisis in pre-season followed by a slow start to the season. Clearly that pattern repeated itself at United.”

Coincidence or consequence, van Persie’s injury-prone spell has contributed to a United campaign that has threatened to come off the rails more than once. It will take a strong second half to the season for United to ensure qualification for the Champions League next season, let alone retain the title. One that surely cannot come if Moyes’ squad remains short-handed.

Still, victory over Aston Villa last weekend and Stoke City in the Capital One Cup has created a sense of some momentum at Old Trafford. West Ham United’s visit on Saturday, followed by Hull City on Boxing Day, and Norwich City before New Year, offers Moyes’ team a chance to close ground on rivals. Three matches against teams in the lower have of the Premier League.

But United faces the the series with a far thinner squad than is healthy, with Carrick, van Persie and Fellaini not due back until after the year has turned. With Fellaini awaiting a wrist operation the Belgian may be out for some time to come.

“Michael has started some work outside on grass and is getting a little bit closer,” said Moyes on Friday.

“I think he’s roughly due to be back around New Year’s Day – that’s the rough time. We are hopeful we may be able to squeeze a few more days out of it but I can’t be sure yet.”

“Marouane has got an injury to his back – a bit of muscle has separated from the bone in his back – which we hoped may have healed up. We’re checking it with a scan but if it hasn’t healed I might need to take a decision to get his wrist done as well.

“Wayne has got a chance. So we will see how he is tomorrow. Nani has got a hamstring injury and we were worried about that. It’s worse than we hoped so that might well keep him out for a few weeks.

“We have been a little bit short in areas but the players who have come in have done brilliantly well. We have needed the whole squad, we really have.”

Manchester United v West Ham United, Old Trafford, Premier League, 20 December 2013Moyes may turn to Ryan Giggs and Phil Jones once again in central midfield – a duo that has brought some stability to the middle of the park, but causes United defensive concerns that have not been rectified this season. The United manager will pick two from Danny Welbeck, Javier Hernandez and Shinji Kagawa in attack if Rooney is unavailable.

Meanwhile, visitors West Ham arrive in Manchester having secured a morale-boosting victory over Tottenham Hotspur during the week. The Capital One Cup win contrasts starkly with a league campaign that has been undermined by poor form and an inability to score enough goals.

However, Manager Sam Allardyce will be without captain Kevin Nolan, who serves the last of his three-match ban, while Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing, Mladen Petric, Winston Reid and Ricardo Vaz Te are all injured. James Tomkins returns after missing games with a groin problem, while former Red Ravel Morrison should start after sitting out the Carling Cup match.

It will be a welcome return to Old Trafford for a player’s whose quality has never been in doubt, but where the application has so often lacked. Dismissed from United too early, or at the right time for his own good, Morrison’s is a talent that is finally blossoming in east London.

Whether United have enough talent of their own fit for the remainder of the Christmas programme is now an open question.

Manchester United v West Ham United, Premier League, Old Trafford, 3pm, 21 December 2013

Teams
United (4-4-2): De Gea; Rafael, Smalling, Evans, Evra; Cleverley, Jones; Valencia, Kagawa, Januzaj. Welbeck. Subs from: Lindegaard, Fabio, Ferdinand, Buttner, Young, Zaha, Anderson, Fletcher, Hernández, Giggs,

West Ham (4-5-1): Jääskeläinen; Demel, McCartney, Tomkins, Collins; Noble, Cole, Morrison, Diamé, Jarvis; Maiga. Subs from: Rat, Collison. Adrián, Taylor, O’Brien, Diarra, Cole

Head-to-head
United 58 Draw 26 West Ham 42

Officials (all Serbian)
Referee: Michael Jones
Assistants: G Beswick, S Child
Fourth Official: H Webb

Prediction
2-0

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