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Preview: United v West Ham

January 15, 2013 Tags: , Matches 147 comments

The Magic of the Cup™ – reloaded. Uniteds of Manchester and visitors West Ham replay in the third round at Old Trafford on Wednesday ten days after a vibrant 2-2 draw in East London. The carrot: a home tie with Fulham on 26 January – and another step towards a Wembley date in May.

Still, with United having laboured for much of the previous match at Upton Park, Sam Allardyce’s men head north with some confidence. After all, the Reds continue to struggle with the defensive side of the game this season, while Sir Alex Ferguson’s side spent much of the second half of Sunday’s clash with Liverpool on the back foot.

The Premier League stands to one side on Wednesday, however, with Sir Alex’ men seeking a 12th FA Cup victory next May. Indeed, the passion with which the Scot celebrated United’s last-minute equaliser in the East End provides ample evidence for Ferguson’s desire to end a nine-year barren run in the Cup.

Good news, then, that Ferguson’s side is likely to be strong for the replay, with Wayne Rooney and Nani set to return for the 125th meeting between the two sides. Rooney hasn’t featured since United’s draw with Swansea City last month, while the Portuguese winger Nani has been out since October.

“Both will play, both are fit,” confirmed Ferguson on Tuesday, who is likely to deploy a many of his senior men at Old Trafford.

“Wayne coming back is good news. He’s been training for a week and looking good. As for Nani, he came back from his spell abroad  and is really looking very good. So I’m fine and will play a strong team.

“Of course, we’ve got a big squad but it’s also an important tie tomorrow for the club. We want to try and have a go at this FA Cup. We haven’t had a run for a long time. We’re at home and we have got to take advantage of that. If we get through, we have got another home tie so there’s a big incentive for the club to make sure we get through.”

Manchester United v West Ham United - FA Cup, Old Trafford - Wednesday 16 December 8.05pmMeanwhile, Ferguson is unlikely to risk either central defensive duo Nemanja Vidić or Jonny Evans – not with United set to face Tottenham Hotspur in London at the weekend in what could be a pivotal clash.

Nor will winger Ashley Young feature after the former Aston Villa winger picked up a knock during the weekend’s victory over Liverpool. Still, with Anderson, Shinji Kagawa and Javier Hernández all in the need of minutes United will not be short of firepower – on the pitch, or bench.

Yet, whatever his offensive options Ferguson will be looking for a far better defensive performance at Old Trafford, with his side having secured just six clean sheets all season.

Goalkeeper David de Gea and likely central defenders Rio Ferdinand and Chris Smalling will have to deal with the visitors’ crossing far better than at Upton Park when the Reds conceded twice from Joe Cole deliveries.

“We conceded two goals from headers in the first game and it’s a type of play that you come across in this league quite a bit,” said Spanish youngster de Gea.

“But we have players at the back who are perfectly capable of dealing with the threat of big powerful strikers who like the ball in the air. We have enough nous to cope with that. It’s something we work on and try to come up with solutions in training.”

Meanwhile, West Ham travel north without key defensive trio James Collins, George McCartney and Joey O’Brien, leaving the Hammers manager with just three fully fit senior defenders. Guy Demel, James Tomkins and Winston Reid will start, while Allardyce could also deploy youngsters Jordan Spence and Danny Potts.

Moreover, the Hammers boss may be tempted to rest key players, with his side facing a crucial relegation fixtures against Queens Park Rangers at the weekend.

Still, Allardyce may still be temped to deploy Joe Cole after the midfielder laid on a brace of goals in the first fixture. Cole also featured in West Ham’s last FA cup victory over United – the 1-0 win at Old Trafford more than a decade ago.

It is also a special occasion for defender Ferdinand, who relishes another tie with West Ham – one which recalls his time in the Londoners’ academy alongside Michael Carrick, Frank Lampard and Cole. Ferdinand is yet to win the FA Cup with any of his clubs.

“The era we had there will be part of West Ham’s history forever now, with so many players who went on to play for England and win league titles with other clubs,” said Ferdinand.

“It is unfortunate for West Ham those players did not stay there and their presence get built upon. That is all history now I suppose. But Joe Cole has gone there to rewrite a bit of his own history in the coming months. It would be good to see him do something positive, but not this week. We want to get through this round.”

And should United emerge victorious another alumni – this time from United – will return to Old Trafford: Dimitar Berbatov.

Match Details
Manchester United v West Ham United – FA Cup, Old Trafford – Wednesday 16 January 8.05pm

Possible teams
United (4-4-2): De Gea; Jones, Ferdinand, Smalling, Büttner; Valencia, Carrick, Anderson, Nani; Rooney, Hernández. Subs from: Amos, Rafael, Evans, Evra, Cleverley, Kagawa, van Persie, Scholes, Fletcher, Welbeck, Powell, Macheda, Giggs, Hernández.

West Ham (4-5-1): Jaaskelainen; Demel, Tomkins, Reid, Potts; Noble, Diarra; J Cole, Nolan, Taylor; C Cole. Subs from: Henderson, Nolan, Jarvis, Maïga, Vaz Tê, Diamé, Maguire, Spence, Chamakh, Tombides, Driver, Paulista.

Officials
Referee: Philip Dowd
Assistant Referees: Simon Long & Gary Beswick
Fourth: Official Lee Probert

Form
United: DWWWDW
West Ham: DLLWDL

Head to Head
Last 10: United 8, West Ham 1, Draw 1
Overall: United 57, West Ham 42, Draw 25

Prediction
3-0

Preview: West Ham v United

January 5, 2013 Tags: , Matches 60 comments

The Magic of the Cup™: jumpers for goalposts, Old Etonians versus Wanderers, Ronnie Radford, the Crazy Gang … Manchester United v Millwall, 2004? The most romantic tournament in the world. Except, of course, there is no longer any flight of fancy. The Cup is dead, long live anything else.

That is certainly the sentiment at Old Trafford where Sir Alex Ferguson has long since given up any pretence that the FA Cup – the world’s oldest surviving football tournament – is anything but a distraction from more important tasks at hand. It is a sad indictment on a unique competition.

And yet there is some logic in Ferguson’s assessment, with the Scot regularly using the FA Cup as a proving ground for youngsters, those that need minutes, and players coming back from injury. Saturday’s tea-time fixture with West Ham United at Upton Park is likely to be different despite a large contingent of United fans heading south.

Yet, nine years on from United’s last triumph in this tournament, there is also a sense that the club is due a victory. Last season’s fourth round defeat to Liverpool was just one in a now growing list of FA Cup disappointments. Not since 2007 has United reached the final – the late defeat to Chelsea – and that was three years past the last occasion on which the Reds actually lifted the trophy.

What, then, of United’s approach to this year’s tournament? With Ferguson’s men safely into a Round of 16 European tie with Real Madrid, and seven points clear of Manchester City in the Premier League, could the Scot change the strategy of the past decade and send his strongest team out again the Hammers?

History says that is unlikely, although such is the depth of Ferguson’s squad that United remain narrow favourites to win in East London whatever the selection. More to the point, the Scot says that he will field a strong side at Upton Park, after watching his team spend nearly a decade without a cup win.

“The cup is a tournament where form doesn’t necessarily win games, luck has a lot to do with it,” claimed Ferguson on Friday.

“We’ve had some really difficult ties over last three or four years. You hope first of all you’re going to be at home in the draw, then you want a draw you can get through. But this is a particularly hard one so I don’t think we’ll make too many changes.”

In recent years United has drawn a succession of Premier League opponents in the FA Cup, although the defeat to Leeds United in 2010 is etched into the memory. Ferguson’s decision to field a make-shift side handed the old rivals an initiative and an infamous victory at Old Trafford.

“We got to the semi-final against City but we’ve had some hard draws – twice away to Liverpool, away to City and a home tie with Leeds, when I rested a few players and we were caught short,” adds Ferguson.

“Chelsea have been fantastic, though I thought they were lucky to beat us in the final when Drogba scored late on. We lost on penalty kicks to Arsenal, which everyone remembers was a travesty of a result. But I think with a club like ours, the closer we get to Wembley, the better we become.”

West Ham United v Manchester United - FA Cup third round, Upton Park - Saturday 5 January 2013, 5.15pmWhatever the claim to the opposite Ferguson will certainly make changes on Saturday, with neither Robin van Persie, Michael Carrick nor Patrice Evra likely to play. Meanwhile, Wayne Rooney will sit out another fortnight and Nani did not travel south despite returning to full training this week.

And with Anders Lindegaard, Darren Fletcher, Danny Welbeck, Nemanja Vidic and Alexander Büttner all due match time Ferguson will make six or seven changes from the side that beat Wigan Athletic on New Year’s Day. Chris Smalling and Phil Jones should both feature.

“Wayne Rooney is still injured,” confirmed the 71-year-old Scot.

“I’m surprised, it’s been longer than we thought it would be. He was meant to be back training but he’s not. It’s nothing serious but it looks like he’s going to be out for another two weeks or so. Nani is expected to start training today, and Phil Jones is available against West Ham. Everyone else is OK I think. ”

Meanwhile, West Ham captain Kevin Nolan and defender James Collins will return after suspension, but Joey O’Brien is a doubtful. On-loan Liverpool striker Andy Carroll and midfielder Mohamed Diame are both unavailable.

Returning midfielder Joe Cole could make his second début for West Ham – the club from whom Ferguson once tried to acquire a teenage Cole 15 years ago.

The match will also represent a return to the east end for Rio Ferdinand who, in the more than a decade with the Reds, is yet to win the FA Cup. Ferdinand missed the 2004 victory while suspended for missing a mandatory test.

It is unlikely to be a comfortable afternoon for the veteran defender, if selected, although United’s recent record against the Hammers is outstanding. Ferguson’s side has won eight of the past nine meetings between these sides, although West Ham did soundly beat a youthful United side in the Carling Cup two years ago.

Few expect a repeat of that 4-0 victory, but then again memories of Paolo Di Canio’s cup winner past Fabien Barthez at Old Trafford in 2001 are still shockingly fresh. And for those who believe in omens, good or bad: Cole played for the Hammers that day.

Match Details
West Ham United v Manchester United – FA Cup third round, Upton Park – Saturday 5 January 2013, 5.15pm

Possible teams
West Ham (4-5-1): Jaaskelainen; Reid, Tomkins, Spence, Demel; Jarvis, Noble, Collison, Taylor; Cole, Vaz Te. Subs from: Spiegel, Spence, Diarra, Lletget, Maiga, Lee, O’Neil, Chamakh, Maguire

United (4-2-3-1): Lindegaard; Jones, Smalling, Vidić, Büttner; Cleverley, Fletcher; Young, Kagawa, Welbeck; Hernández. Subs from: De Gea, Wootton, Evra, Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans, Carrick, Scholes, Valencia, Welbeck, Powell, Macheda, van Persie, Giggs

Officials
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Assistant Referees: Simon Beck & Stuart Burt
Fourth Official: Kevin Friend

Form
West Ham: WLDLLW
United: WWDWWW

Head to Head
Last 10: West Ham 2, United 8, Draw 0
Overall: West Ham 42, United 57, Draw 24

Prediction
1-2

Preview: United v West Ham United

November 28, 2012 Tags: , Matches 69 comments

Old Trafford takes in a rare midweek Premier League game, with high-flying West Ham United in town on Wednesday as Sir Alex Ferguson’s team aims to consolidate a one point lead in the table. Manchester United’s renewed Premier League supremacy came amid few positives from a lethargic display against Queens Park Rangers on Saturday – a scenario Ferguson is keen to avoid against the Hammers.

Once again, on Saturday, United fell behind, only to secure victory over QPR with a three goal burst inside 10 second half minutes. It is a pattern that has repeated all season, although the Reds’ lifelessness for much of Saturday’s tie will definitely certainly concern United’s manager.

West Ham travel north following defeat to Tottenham Hotspur at the weekend, but lying in a healthy eighth place in the Premier League, with Sam Allardyce’s outfit just two points off a European qualification place.

This is a performance that brought fresh support from Ferguson for his old friend Allardyce. The former Bolton Wanderers manager has rarely enjoyed universal support from Hammers’ fans during an 18 month spell at the club.

Meanwhile, United will make at least one change from the weekend’s line-up, with veteran midfielder Paul Scholes absent through suspension.  Anderson, who impressed in a 30 minute cameo on Saturday, could start just his seventh game of the season against Allardyce’s outfit.

Ferguson has plenty of dilemmas ahead of kick off, with neither Ashley Young, Nani, nor Antonio Valencia in form for the Londoners’ visit. In any case Valencia’s hip problem could rule out the Ecuadorian once again, while Nani has missed matches against Aston Villa, Norwich City and QPR with a hamstring problem. Young, jeered off on Saturday, could drop to the bench.

“We’ll see what Antonio is like today and tomorrow,” admitted the United manager.

“Nani is still going to be out [but] Chris Smalling and Phil Jones were on the bench on Saturday and they’re available. It’s good to have them as back-up and in the back four things are much healthier. We’ve got plenty of options in the midfield and up front – it’s just the two wide positions.”

Manchester United v West Ham United - Premier League, Old Trafford - Wednesday 29 November 8.00pmInjuries and form could see United once again deploy a narrow midfield, with Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck also in contention to start alongside the Reds’ oft-errant Brazilian, Anderson.

Yet,  the big-boned midfielder, with Javier Hernández, changed Saturday’s game for United – the pair adding urgency and dynamism as the Reds won the fixture with a short burst in the second half. The player has often frustrated at Old Trafford, but a 30 minute substitute appearance has renewed hope that the former Porto star could fulfill his potential.

“I thought Ando won the game for us,” said Ferguson after United’s 3-1 victory on Saturday.

“His performance was outstanding. He took the game by the scruff of the neck and he was so positive and determined in his play that he picks himself on Wednesday.”

However, much focus will also be on United’s opponents at Old Trafford, with £35 million on-loan striker Andy Carroll likely to draw the Stretford End’s jeers. The Liverpool forward, on loan at Upton Park for the season, has scored just once this season after a near disastrous campaign with the Merseyside club last year.

Still, United’s inability to come up with more than three clean sheets in 20 matches this season means Carroll is an undoubted threat on Wednesday night.

“I am sure if you ask any defender, they find it difficult to play against someone like that who is good in the air and on the floor,” said fellow striker Rooney who should return to United’s starting line-up against the Hammers.

“He is physical and he makes it difficult. That type of player doesn’t always get all the goals but they can cause trouble up front and create problems. I am sure that is what Sam Allardyce wants him to do.”

Whether Carroll’s presence induces yet another comeback performance is yet to be determined, although Ferguson is unlikely to tolerate another lesson in mediocrity. While United’s defensive performance against QPR was far better than at times this season, with Jonny Evans impressing at centre half, the team’s lack of urgency was deeply concerning.

Meanwhile, Allardyce is without suspended midfielder Mark Noble, while left-back George McCartney is a doubt after suffering an ankle injury against Spurs. Yossi Benayoun, Jack Collison and forward Ricardo Vaz Te are also ruled out though injury.

Whatever West Ham’s short-term problems, Ferguson says Dudley-born Allardyce has already exceeded his remit in brining stability to the east London side.

“Big Sam went to Upton Park a year and a bit ago and the cynics said he’s not a West Ham manager as he doesn’t play football,” said Ferguson.

“What was his mandate? To get them up into the Premier League as quickly as possible and he got them up within a year. Tell me someone else who could’ve done that? He’s also had to rebuild the team and get two or three players out because of their salaries. He’s very underrated, it’s as simple as that.”

Whether Allardyce can lead his men to victory is another matter. While memories of Fabian Barthez raised right hand and Paulo di Canio’s cup goal are fresh, so too are eight victories for the Reds in the past 10 meetings between these sides. Old Trafford expects nothing less than a repeat.

Match Details
Manchester United v West Ham United – Premier League, Old Trafford – Wednesday 28 November 2012, 8.00pm

Possible teams
United (4-2-3-1): Lindegaard; Rafael, Evans, Ferdinand, Evra; Carrick, Anderson; Cleverley, Rooney, Welbeck; van Persie. Subs from: De Gea, Jones, Smalling, Powell, Wootton, Buttner, Fletcher, Hernandez, Henríquez.

West Ham (4-5-1): Jaaskelainen; Reid, McCartney, Tomkins, O’Brien; Nolan, Diame, O’Neil, Taylor, Jarvis; Carroll. Subs from: Spiegel, Collins, Demel, Taylor, Moncur, Cole, Maiga.

Officials
Referee: M Jones
Assistants: R Ganfield, G Beswick
Fourth official: J Moss

Form
United: WWWLLW
West Ham: WLDWDL

Head to Head
Last 10: United 8, West Ham 2, Draw 0
Overall: United 56, West Ham 42, Draw 24

Stats

  • Hernández remains the league’s most productive goalscorer in terms of the average time per goal strike – one every 69 minutes is unmatched by any other forward;
  • Robin van Persie failed to add to his tally against QPR, but performed well enough to usurp Carlos Tevez as the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index‘ leading player – on 276 points to Tevez’ 275, with Juan Mata in third-placed on 244;
  • The Dutchman’s philosophy is certainly more than ‘style over substance’ – he covered 6.39 miles at the weekend, more than any other United player for the third consecutive game;
  • United is the only team in the league to have won six of the last seven games, yet in nine of the past 13 league matches Ferguson’s men have fallen behind;
  • Darren Fletcher returned from a long-term absence at the weekend – his first league start in over a year – and covered 6.29 miles in 90 minutes, more than all but three of his team mates;
  • Meanwhile, West Ham head to Old Trafford just two points off Everton in fifth-place, with Kevin Nolan key to the Hammers chances at Old Trafford – Nolan is the league’s most accurate finisher according to the Index, with 70 per cent of 30 shots on target this season;
  • Defender James Tomkins has won 93.8 percent of his tackles this season – more than any other league player;
  • The Hammers suffered a tough day against Spurs last weekend, but Andy Carroll’s goal means that the east London club has failed to score in just three matches this season;
  • Carroll has split fans’ opinions this season, but has 13 on target from twenty attempts.

Prediction
3-0

Advantage United as Rooney inspires comeback

April 3, 2011 Tags: , Matches 47 comments

There have been many late comebacks this season. Indeed, Manchester United’s ability turn to mediocre performances into victory is perhaps the defining hallmark of a season that again rests in the Reds hands. This time at the Boleyn Ground, where United has suffered so much in the past, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side came from two down to West Ham United to score a potentially vital win in the Premier League title race. With Chelsea and Arsenal drawing later in the day, United eased two points further ahead, although with matches against both London sides to come, nothing is settled.

With the hosts two goals ahead within 25 minutes United’s visit to east London threatened to be every bit as traumatic as previous matches on this ground. The Reds’ 2-1 defeat in 1992 handed Leeds United the initiative in the old First Division; three years later and a 1-1 draw enabled Blackburn Rovers to take the title. Just six wins in the past 17 visits and a 4-0 loss on this ground in November’s Carling Cup quarter-final attest to the trouble United has faced in east London.

Not this time. Ferguson’s half-time reorganisation of United’s tactics, and Wayne Rooney’s 14 minute hat-trick, settled the game that for much of the opening period seemed beyond the visitors.

“We played like champions today,” Ferguson said, whose team is now seven points clear with as many games to go.

“We didn’t lose our faith in our ability and that was a great boost to us. It was a real championship performance.

“They probably only had two shots at goal, but two-nothing down at half-time you’re under the cosh. I felt we had to go for it. I brought on Chicharito, put Ryan back to left-back. At that point I’m saying to myself goal difference doesn’t matter. Lets get something out of it.

“We kept creating chances in the first half. Valencia had them on toast. He’s so comfortable on the ball, they couldn’t get it off him. In the first half he delivered two or three fantastic balls in, we just didn’t get enough on them to capitalise. But in the second half, when Chicharito comes on, he gives you that lightning pace and he’s threatening them all the time behind. So it meant they were going right back towards the box and gave us a lot of space to operate.”

Yet, Ferguson’s decision to leave out top-goalscorer Dimitar Berbatov, in-form Javier  Hernández and winger Nani, seemingly handed West Ham the initiative. Deploying Rooney, not in the deeper position that has prompted a return to form in recent weeks but as a lone front-runner, Ferguson asked veteran Ryan Giggs and newly fit Antonio Valencia to provide width. Indeed the latter, whose ability to run at defenders United has sorely missed, proved a constant threat on the right.

The changes left United disjointed in central midfield and vulnerable in defence, despite Nemanja Vidic’s return to partner Chris Smalling in the heart of the Reds’ back-four. Within 15 minutes the hosts took control of the game as Frank Noble scored from the spot after Patrice Evra handled. Tomas Hitzlsperger’s fine long pass split United’s defence and Carlton Cole drew the Frenchman’s infringement.

Within 10 minutes the Hammers were further ahead, Vidic bringing down Cole for the second spot-kick of the match. United’s captain argued that the foul was outside the area – there were no more than inches in it – but Noble lashed home his second penalty to give the hosts a potentially decisive lead.

It could have been so much worse, with Vidic receiving a caution after bringing down Demba Ba before half-time. As the last man, United’s captain may have been fortunate not to see red, although with the ball not under the Senegalese striker’s control it was hard for referee Lee Mason to judge whether a clear goalscoring opportunity had been denied.

Yet, it is testament to both United’s resilience and Ferguson’s ability to gamble that the Reds turned the game around in the second half. If the 69-year-old Scot had offered West Ham the momentum with his initial team selection then Hernández’ introduction for Evra radically altered both United’s state of mind and the match.

The Mexican’s pace, Valencia’s willingness to run at Wayne Bridge and substitute Berbatov’s understanding of space, opened up the game, turning United’s ample first half possession into chances and goals.

Rooney superbly curled in a 25-yard free-kick on the hour to bring United back into the match, before the England man skipped past two players to lash home a second with 20 to go. The striker brought down a curtain on a horrible 12 months by completing his hat-trick from the spot after Matt Upson handled Fabio da Silva’s attempted cross. And United’s come-back was complete with the inevitable Hernández goal with five minutes to go.

It was only a fifth away win in the Premier League this season but on chances alone a thoroughly deserved one. There is also a sense that United’s victory will have deeply hurt both Arsenal and Chelsea, whose inconsistency has enabled Ferguson’s side to pull away.

“It makes an impact on us. Seven games left. You can count the games down one by one,” added Ferguson.

“It ends up you run out of games and hopefully we’re there. Arsenal have games in hand and it could go to goal difference but I somehow don’t think so.”

The Reds excellent recent record at the Emirates will again be put to the test, although by the time United visits north London in May the title could already be over, with Chelsea seemingly focused on Europe and Arsenal simply not mentally strong enough to compete. It’s a charge, whatever United’s weaknesses, that cannot be levelled at the Reds.

“We don’t give up. No matter what the score in the game, we keep going,” Giggs told ManUtd.com.

“We’d played some good stuff in the first half. We just gave silly goals away. We were getting into good areas but the final ball wasn’t good enough. We just needed to concentrate more in the final third. We felt if we kept creating chances and got a goal back we could go on and win it.”

So it proved and with United’s title rivals dropping points, the victory may yet be pivotal. This time, on this ground, it went in United’s favour.

Match Facts
West Ham – 442 – Green; Jacobsen, Upson, Da Costa, Bridge; O’Neil (Obinna 83), Parker, Noble (Keane 83), Hitzlsperger; Cole (Piquionne 68), Ba

United – 4231 – Kuszczak; Fabio Da Silva, Vidic, Smalling, Evra (Hernández 46); Carrick, Gibson; Valencia, Park Ji-Sung (Berbatov 64), Giggs; Rooney (Nani 87)

Attendance – 34,546
Man of the Match – Valencia

Possession: West Ham 37% – 63% United
Attempts: 6 – 18
On Target: 2 – 9
Corners: 0 – 16
Fouls: 10 – 9

Vidic back for vital Hammers trip

April 2, 2011 Tags: , Matches 211 comments

Manchester United captain Nemanja Vidic makes a welcome return for the Reds, as Sir Alex Ferguson’s injury-hit squad faces a less than welcoming Upton Park fixture. Rio Ferdinand is back in training but not available for the Saturday lunchtime game with West Ham United, while Wes Brown, John O’Shea and Rafael da Silva are all injured. Adding to Ferguson’s defensive problems, Northern Irish international Jonny Evans will sit out the first of three matches following a red card against Bolton Wanderers a fortnight ago.

Vidic’s return and no fresh injuries during the international break is a welcome bonus for Ferguson, who says that the intensity of the modern game is the cause of the latest Old Trafford injury crisis. With United still chasing a remarkable and very unlikely treble there are echoes of the club’s all-conquering 1999 season.

“The kind of games Manchester United are playing today are far more competitive than they were in 1999,” said Ferguson on Friday.

“The speed of the game has increased, the standard of training and pitches has improved, so everything’s faster. The game is quicker and therefore you run the risk of injury because of that.

“The big one is Saturday, because we are depleted in one area of the pitch. With eight games to go, you can’t exclude anyone. Whoever is the most consistent will win this league. But we should not over-stretch ourselves in terms of looking forward – this game is as important as any.

“I thought the two-week break would bring a few of our injured players on. It has, but not enough for them to play against West Ham. We are considerably short for the right-back position. We have to solve that – and find the right solution.”

“Rio has started training. He has only been training two days and then just a light session today. I have to decide whether we bring him in tomorrow, or give him a day off and start him on Wednesday again. He is more likely to be fit for the Fulham game.”

With so many injuries Ferguson’s back-four almost picks itself, and with Darren Fletcher still suffering from a mystery stomach bug and Paul Scholes sitting out the second of a two-match ban, the Scot is also short in central midfield. Anderson trained this week, although there is no guarantee the 22-year-old Brazilian will be thrust back into Premier League action. Meanwhile Park Ji-Sung is in United’s matchday squad after overcoming a knee complaint.

West Ham United v Manchester United, Boleyn Ground, 3rd April 2011Ferguson’s comparatively meagre resources could mean another game at the head of United’s midfield for Wayne Rooney, who has excelled in a deeper position in recent weeks. Either Javier Hernández, who played and scored for Mexico over the international break, or Dimitar Berbatov will lead United’s line.

And striker Rooney believes that United’s home form could win the Reds a 19th domestic league title. It certainly won’t be the club’s performances on the road, which have brought just five Premier League wins away from fortress Old Trafford this season.

“I have been a player in the away dressing room and I know the fear you feel before the game and you are not expected to get anything out of it,” said Rooney, who played at Old Trafford for Everton in 2003.

“So we have that psychological advantage even before the game starts but we know we are good enough to beat anyone here.

“I grew up an Everton fan so to be part of the team to overtake Liverpool’s record would be brilliant. It would mean so much to us players as well as the fans. It is something I have been thinking about a lot. I know all the Everton fans want us to do it and hopefully we can.

“You look forward to every game at this stage and you’ve got to enjoy it, especially when you are in the running for a few trophies. It is exciting for the fans and it’s exciting for the players knowing that you are just a few weeks away from possibly winning a major trophy or two.”

Meanwhile, West Ham captain Scott Parker should play despite picking up a shoulder injury on international duty this week, although Frederic Piquionne is unlikely to start for Avram Grant’s outfit. Indeed, the Israeli says that his captain should be named Footballer of the Year after a series of outstanding performances for the Londoners this season.

“I think, without any doubt, that he’s the player of the year. I don’t see any player that is better than him,” said Grant.

“And if you also want to nominate a player who’s a good example, it’s good for everybody. He’s a player who always gives everything, always trains well, is always positive and always gives everything for the team. If we are in a position that we can stay in the league it’s because we took points in the first half of the season, sometimes without 10 or 11 players. And he played and he was very good.”

Despite the Hammers’ seemingly excellent record against United, including a 4-0 Carling Cup quarter-final victory in the driving snow just before Christmas, West Ham have lost their last five league games against the Reds without scoring a goal. It’s the kind of record that Ferguson is desperate to for his side to maintain.

Opposition
West Ham – 451 – Green; Jacobsen, da Costa, Upson, Bridge; O’Neil, Parker, Hitzlsperger, Noble, Obinna; Ba. Subs from: Boffin, Gabbidon, Tomkins, Boa Morte, Sears, Hines, Spector, Keane, Cole, Reid, Kovac.

United
United – 442 – van der Sar; Fabio, Vidic, Smalling, Evra; Carrick, Gibson; Valencia, Rooney, Nani; Hernandez. Subs from: Kuszczak, Owen, Berbatov, Bébé, Park, Obertan, Tunnicliffe, Morrison, King, Giggs, Park Ji-Sung, Anderson.

Officials
Referee: Lee Mason
Assistant referees: Darren Cann & Patrick Keane
Fourth official: Stuart Attwell

Form
West Ham – DWWWLD
United – WWDWWW

Sobering loss poses serious questions

December 2, 2010 Tags: , , Opinion 37 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson promised faith in youth this season, although he may have cause to rethink the assertion after his team’s humiliation in East London on Tuesday. That Manchester United’s 29 match unbeaten run came to an end in such empathic fashion so soon after scoring seven at the weekend was surprise enough

That the Reds surrendered so meekly all the more shocking. But while Ferguson’s younger players failed to perform, arguably it was his experienced pros that truly let him down.

True, West Ham United exposed all of Bébé’s many weaknesses and Gabriel Obertan often looked lost too, while Chris Smalling was often uncomfortable and Jonny Evans – not for the first time – physically dominated. Fabio da Silva demonstrated his inexperience too.

Yet United, with Anderson, Darren Fletcher and Ryan Giggs deployed in central midfield, hardly lacked for big match nous. The addition of John O’Shea and Tomasz Kuzsazck offered yet more experience to a side whose average age was nearly 25. Not 20.

Sir Alex Ferguson brushed off the defeat, blaming individual mistakes and ‘soft’ goals, which is no surprise. He cannot but support younger players who have yet to build a reputation or the confidence that goes with it. But the nature of United’s drubbing has sparked a debate not only about the quality of the club’s youngsters but the squad’s strength-in-depth too.

“I didn’t expect that, that’s for sure. If you analyse it the goals we gave away were absolutely too soft,” Ferguson told MUTV.

“We had one or two half chances and Gabriel Obertan had a shot saved by the goalkeeper (Robert Green) which then hit the post.

“The goals killed it. You can’t just give goals away at this level. That first goal was a break for them. We were in control in the early part, played some good football. But goals change games.

“The thing that sparked it was the goal that was disallowed because it got the crowd up. It spurred them on.”

Not that Ferguson is likely to criticise his youngster’s potential having very publicly placed faith in the group before the season’s start. Indeed, there’s some sympathy with Ferguson’s view in the match statistics, which saw United dominate possession – 55 per cent – and create as many chances as the hosts.

Moreover, arguably the worst performers were United’s senior men, with O’Shea, Giggs and Fletcher performing poorly. Anderson, after dominating midfield against Blackburn last weekend, seemed less than interested in the first period; presumably Ferguson’s hairdryer inspired a less insipid response after the break.

Kuzsazck simply confirmed that his exit sooner rather than later is to be welcomed not feared. Not least by Smalling, who has looked so assured in previous outings, but turned into a nervous wreck in the freezing cold on Tuesday night.

Yet, one cannot but be struck by Bébé’s failure on the right-wing. After scoring in the previous round, and netting a stunning double for the reserves recently, much was hoped – if not expected – of the £8 million Portuguese. Instead the winger’s commitment to running down blind allies and delivering without any quality was total.

Meanwhile, Obertan’s quality with the ball at his feet is potentially outstanding but his understanding of the game rudimentary at best. Even Hernandez had one of his least effective games in a Red shirt, demonstrating that without true support he is unable to dictate the flow of United’s attacks.

For all the defender’s attacking endeavors, Fabio’s failure was summed up in the opening period when he let a simple pass roll under his foot and across the touchline. Not a good day at the office.

But if one player’s ignominious failure at the Boleyn Ground was a case study for the team, then Evans takes it. The Ulsterman’s embarrassment by Carlton Cole for a second time this season mercifully ended in the second period with his substitution. That United fans had already sung for Wes Brown surely not a coincidence.

Of course, time rather than conjecture is the ultimate judge of whether United’s squad and younger players are up to the job. Humiliation in East London can do little to the players’ confidence though. Indeed, Obertan, Bébé and Fabio will now see little action, save for the upcoming dead rubber against Valencia at Old Trafford, before the season’s end.

Unless Ferguson risks deploying them in the FA Cup third round fixture against Liverpool. After Leeds United at the same stage last season, surely that’s a risk the Scot is unwilling to take.

PlayPlay

Kids face Hammers test

November 30, 2010 Tags: , Matches 167 comments

Manchester United’s second string travel to Upton Park this evening in the continuing quest to win a third Carling Cup in a row. Sir Alex Ferguson’s youth and fringe players will be offered another chance to shine, with momentum also key after United’s thumping 7-1 win over Blackburn Rovers at Old Trafford last weekend.

However, Ferguson could make 11 changes to the side that beat Rovers, with ‘keeper Ben Amos set to start and Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and Javier Hernández almost certainly involved.

“It would be great to win it three times in a row. The League Cup has become an interesting trophy now,” said Ferguson.

“We come into it a bit later and it gives me an opportunity to play the young players as I did against Wolves. They responded very well.

“The players who played against Wolves are hopefully the future of the club. There’s a great potential there. All we have to do is develop that potential and realise it. By the time they are 24 or 25, we hope they will be the next Manchester United.”

The match could also offer young wingers Bébé and Gabriel Obertan another chance in the first team picture against West Ham United. Obertan scored a stunning goal against Bursaspor recently, while Bébé struck a magnificent double for the reserves last week.

Indeed, the match is perhaps more crucial to Obertan, who has now been at the club for 18 months but is yet to break into the first team on a regular basis despite injuries to Ryan Giggs and Antonio Valencia.

Of those who started on Saturday perhaps only Anderson could feature tonight, with the Brazilian short of minutes this season. The player’s forceful performance against Rovers was a reminder of those early in his United career. However, in the past two seasons the midfielder has failed to progress, with injuries and temperament holding the 23-year-old back.

Ryan Giggs, also short of minutes this season, could feature from the bench as the Welsh legend, 37 yesterday, regains fitness.

But it is United’s youngsters whom are the focus tonight, with 20-year-old Amos hoping to force his way into the first team picture. Surprisingly promoted to number three ‘keeper after Ben Foster’s departure in the summer, Amos says that he is learning from Edwin van der Sar every day.

“I’ve said a few times that it is a little bit like training with your dad,” the Macclesfield-born player told ManUtd.com.

“I don’t think he’ll appreciate that, but he’s great. I’m chewing at his ear all the time, trying to get bits of advice. He’s very open and he says what he thinks.

“There’s only one position and we train a lot, training everyday without playing is difficult, but you’ve just got to keep yourself motivated and make sure you’re ready and available when you’re needed.

“The next game is always a target for me. They don’t come round too often being the number three keeper, so I’ve just got to make sure I’m ready and I’m peaking when those games come around.”

United’s last defeat in this competition came in September 2008 when Coventry City won 2-0 at Old Trafford in the third round. Since which time Ferguson’s fringe side picked up the trophies in Spring 2009 and 2010.

United’s recent record against West Ham is excellent too, despite the painful results in 1995 and 1992, which cost United the Premier League. Ferguson’s side has scored 13 goals without reply against the Hammers in the last five meetings between the sides, with the Reds winning the last half-dozen encounters.

Meanwhile, West Ham is expected to field a strong team, although key players Frederic Piquionne, Valon Behrami and Scott Parker miss the game through injury. Danny Gabbidon, Herita Ilunga, and Kieron Dyer joined Mark Noble, Manuel da Costa, Jack Collison and Thomas Hitzlsperger as long-term absentees this week, while Lars Jacobsen is cup-tied.

However, Mexican winger Pablo Barrera is looking forward to meeting compatriot Hernández with whom he stared at the World Cup in South Africa.

“I know him well. We first played alongside each other for the under-20 national team when we were 18 or 19 years old. He’s a year younger than me,” said Barrera.

“He’s a good guy. He’s laid back but works hard, is very conscientious and is a good player.”

Given Hernández’ scoring record this season, few would bet against the striker hitting the net again tonight.

Opposition
West Ham – 442 – Green; Gabbidon, Jacobsen, Upson, Tomkins; Kovac, Behrami, Barrera, Stanislas; Piquionne, Obinna.

Subs from: Boffin, Boa Morte, Hines, McCarthy, Reid, Cole, Spector, Faubert, Nouble, Spence, Kurucz, Stech, Brown.

United
United – 442 – Amos; Neville, Smalling, Evans, Fábio; Bébé, Gibson, O’Shea, Obertan; Macheda, Hernández.

Subs from: Rafael, Brown, Anderson, Carrick, Park, Eikrem, Dudgeon, Gill, Morrison, Brady, Kuszczak, Fletcher, Giggs.

Officials
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Assistant referees: R S Ganfield & S Ledger
Fourth official: Andre Marriner

Form
West Ham – LDDDLW
United – WDDWWW

Slick Reds ease to West Ham win

August 29, 2010 Tags: , Matches 6 comments

Wayne Rooney scored as Manchester United cruised to victory over relegation-threatened West Ham United at Old Trafford with a vibrant performance. After the disappointing draw with Fulham last weekend, United regained momentum in a Premier League title race that is already beginning to take a familiar shape.

The weight finally lifted and fitness levels creeping towards a sharpness not seen before his injury against Bayern Munich in March, Rooney can now enjoy a new level of freedom from press scrutiny. For the time being at least.

After all, Rooney has traditionally scored in bursts, and with the drought counting now ended, the Scouser is now liberated to fire United towards a strong start to the season.

While United’s talisman opened the Reds account from the spot, Sir Alex Ferguson reserved special praise for Dimitar Berbatov and Paul Scholes, outstanding against Avram Grant’s side, alongside the lively Nani.

“Dimitar and Paul Scholes orchestrated that victory,” added Ferguson, whose side remain unbeaten this season.

“They deserved their standing ovation and Dimitar’s goal was excellent.

“You have to win your home games and we are back on track after dropping those two points at Fulham last week.

“It is too early to say what formation the league is taking at present but the usual suspects are up there.”

Yet the game threatened to fall as flat as the Old Trafford atmosphere in the first half, with United’s possession not converted into goals in front of the Stretford End.

Grant’s side, hardly obdurate in the opening games of the season, demonstrated much of the fight it will need to avoid the drop come May. Rob Green, the much derided now former-England goalkeeper, Matthew Upson and Danny Gabbidon did much to keep United’s attack at bay.

As the half wore on Scholes, the returning Ryan Giggs and Nani on the right wing exerted ever greater influence on the match though. Indeed, shortly after Nani had hit the bar, Scholes found Giggs on the left, with the Welshman far too good for former United player Jonathan Spector, who gave away the spot kick. Rooney duly converted on the half hour.

The Reds doubled the advantage minutes into the second half as Old Trafford finally warmed to the occasion if not the weather. Nani started and finished a smart move, smashing a left foot shot past Green into the top corner. The goal had all the hallmarks of Cristiano Ronaldo; the heir apparent now firmly crowned.

Then the dénouement as Nani beat two West Ham defenders before teeing up Berbatov to score with an acrobatic finish. The Bulgarian, still not without his frustrations, has outshone his strike partner in the early season matches.

“Strikers want to score, but it is Wayne’s performance that we should be talking about,” added Ferguson.

“He was full of life and energy. He worked his socks off. He needs games but the 90 minutes will bring him on.”

“I thought his overall game was much better, he looked a lot stronger and we look forward to him playing for England now and coming back fitter,” added assistant manager Mike Phelan.

West Ham meanwhile remain rooted to the foot of the table having lost its opening three matches. With games against Chelsea, Stoke City away and Tottenham Hotspur coming up there was more than a touch of gallows humour about the travelling support.

They’ll need it.

United, on the other hand, head into the international break with the mood lifted after the recriminations of last week’s draw. Tougher tests lie ahead, of course, not least an away trip to Goodison Park, followed by Rangers and Liverpool at Old Trafford after the break.

Rooney, fit and now scoring goals, will at last relish the upcoming matches.

Match facts

United: van der Sar; O’Shea, Vidic, Evans (Smalling, 74), Evra; Nani, Scholes (Carrick, 74), Fletcher, Giggs; Berbatov (Owen, 74), Rooney.

Man-of-the-match: Dimitar Berbatov
Attendance: 75,061

Possession: United 54% – 46% West Ham
Attempts: 11 – 7
On target: 7 – 2
Corners: 8 – 2
Fouls: 3 – 5