Fresh from World Cup draw fever, the attention will once more be focused on the Premier League. Manchester United have the rare occurrence of a Saturday, 3pm kick-off, and the lucky recipients of a visit from Sir Alex Ferguson on his 1,300th game in charge of the Red Devils are West Ham United. That’s 3pm GMT at Upton Park or the Boleyn Ground if you prefer.
The Hammers are fresh from the 5-3 victory over Burnley last weekend, at one point 5-0 up. But former United reserve Chris Eagles was the catalyst for the Clarets as they looked to make the score more respectable and ultimately demonstrate the weakness of West Ham’s defence. Having not had a clean sheet since August and scoring in each of their last eleven matches, including an impressive 8 in their last three games, a goal fest should ensue.
Matthew Upson should have recovered from a hamstring injury to help repair the leaky defence that has conceded at least two goals in 9 of their last 10 Premier League matches. Reported United target Carlton Cole is out until the New Year and Alessandro Diamanti is doubtful with a thigh strain. This means Zavon Hines will start upfront for the Hammers,
Long-term absentees Calum Davenport, Dean Ashton and Luis Boa Morte are all still sidelined. Valon Behrami is also out after minor knee surgery. Forgotten man Kieron Dyer should be on the bench after playing 75 minutes for the reserves on Monday.
Gianfranco Zola has the Hammers playing an attacking brand of football, a brand of entertaining football that has led his side into a relegation dogfight. One player who is always up for a battle is Scott Parker, he has matured into a more holding role during his time with West Ham and is a vital component of Zola’s team, he will look to impose his game on our midfield and is also a threat when he ventures into the opposition half.
United go into the game on the back of a comfortable 2-0 victory over Tottenham in the Carling Cup. With Ferguson selecting a second string side, the young lads will have definitely put themselves into first team contention, Darron Gibson being a case in point.
Edwin Van der Sar, who has saved 83% of all shots on target, a league high, has recovered from a knee injury and will force Tomasz Kuszczak back onto the bench.
Patrice Evra will return to the back line to join Gary Neville, Nemanja Vidic and Wes Brown in an almost unchanged unit. John O’Shea and Jonny Evans are still out with thigh and ankle injuries, respectively.
The biggest headache for Ferguson is the midfield, Anderson was impressive against Spurs, Michael Carrick had a late cameo but Darron Gibson stole all the headlines with two wonderful goals and surely deserves to keep his place in the side. Antonio Valencia, Darren Fletcher and Ryan Giggs should all return to the team, and Paul Scholes is also in with a shout.
Wayne Rooney who bagged a hat-trick last week, will almost certainly partner Dimitar Berbatov, leaving Michael Owen out in the cold once more.
There have been more goals at Upton Park than at any other Premier League ground this season. We do not have a great record at Upton Park with two defeats in our last three trips to east London, though last season we completed the double over the Hammers. We should expect nothing less than a victory to keep the pressure on Chelsea, who face a tricky tie against that ‘massive club’ from across the way.
Prediction: 3-1 United
Probable Line Up: Van der Sar, Neville, Brown, Vidic, Evra, Valencia, Fletcher, Gibson, Giggs, Rooney, Berbatov