Old Trafford expects its second victory of the season, with West Ham United in town for this afternoon’s late kick off. The Hammers, beaten twice already, conceding six goals in the process, look prime candidates for relegation, with manager Avram Grant admitting his team is suffering from “a lot of psychology problems” early in the season.
United’s principal selection choice surrounds in-form Paul Scholes who could be rested for the tie. Although with the international break coming up, the ginger midfielder can take a well-earned rest after the Hammers’ visit. Ferguson could draft in Michael Carrick or Ryan Giggs to central midfield alongside Darren Fletcher.
Wayne Rooney, now recovered from the stomach bug that kept the striker out of United’s disappointing draw with Fulham last weekend, will partner Dimitar Berbatov in attack, while Nani should return to the starting line-up in place of Ji-Sung Park.
Ferguson, uncharacteristically critical of his team following last Sunday’s draw with Fulham, is seeking an improvement in both performance and fitness, with several key players close to a return.
“Things are looking up here,” the manager told the press on Friday.
“Rio Ferdinand has trained this week, which was a big surprise to me. He’s made fantastic progress. Anderson is training with the first team and he had a bit of a reserve game of course on Tuesday so that’s really good news.
“We’ve got no injuries from last week’s game. Wayne Rooney has trained all week and he’s back.”
“We’ve always had really good games against West Ham and we expect that again. Obviously we were really disappointed with last Sunday, throwing away two points like that.
“Its uncharacteristic but its early season and I do think some of the players needed the game, the second half of the game dropped. We think they’ll be much better tomorrow.”
However, Ferguson is likely concerned about the form of his central defenders, with Jonny Evans given a particularly hard game by Fulham’s Bobby Zamora. The young Irishman found himself the wrong side for Fulham’s first equaliser and was unable to deal with Zamora’s physical game.
Good news then that Ferdinand is perhaps only two weeks from full fitness having trained with the first team squad this week. Although not able to feature against West Ham, the defender’s progress is speedier than anticipated.
“I must admit he hadn’t done anything football wise when we spoke last week,” added Ferguson.
“Maybe when he read what I said it gave him a bit of a kick. He’s come in and trained all week. He’ll train with the reserves today, and won’t be involved tomorrow [against West Ham] but we’ll try and get him a game in the next two weeks.”
Unsurprisingly Ferdinand’s defensive partner Nemanja Vidic is delighted with the England captain’s imminent return, with the pair having played so few games together over the past year. While Ferdinand has suffered with back, groin and knee problems, Vidic spent much of last season on the sidelines with a mystery nerve complaint.
However, the Serbian has no concerns about adapting to the old partnership when Ferdinand returns after the international break.
“We’ve played alongside each other for over four and a half years so it’s easy to play together, even when you’ve been out for a while,” stand-in captain Vidic told ManUtd.com
“We’ve shown over the years that, as a partnership, we have a good relationship, but we obviously need to reach the right form and you need to play every week to get that. Hopefully we can.”
It’s no concern for today’s game of course, although Evans’ performance will be under ever greater scrutiny.
West Ham travel north having made its worst ever start to a Premier League campaign, with captain Scott Parker admitting he is “dreading” the thought of the trip to Old Trafford. The Hammers play Chelsea, Stoke away and Tottenham Hotspur next, facing the very real prospect of beginning the season with six defeats.
Grant travels without injured quartet Jack Collison, Zavon Hines, Peter Kurucz and Thomas Hitzlsperger.
Team – 451 – Green; Reid, Gabbidon, Upson, Ilunga; Faubert, Parker, Noble, Kovac, Dyer; Cole. Subs from – Barrera, Piquionne, Sears, Stech, Tomkins, Boa Morte, McCarthy, Ben Haim, Spector, Da Costa, Stanislas, Daprelà, Obinna, Nouble.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Assistant referees: Adam Watts & Martin Yerby
Fourth official: Michael Jones
United – WWW
West Ham – LL