Manchester United face West Ham United on Saturday looking for victory after a disappointing result in their previous fixture against Fulham.
Since the inception of Premiership/Premier League football Saturday’s fixture will be West Ham’s fifteenth appearance at Old Trafford. Of those fifteen, the Hammers have only won twice with victories coming in 2001 (Manchester United lost three consecutive league games against Arsenal, Chelsea with West Ham being the third) and in 2007 (a 1-0 victory ensuring West Ham’s Premier League survival with the goal scored by that man Carlos Tevez). The recent record between the two clubs is favourable for Manchester United. The Red Devils have won the last five meetings scoring 14 goals in the process and only conceding a solitary goal.
With new manager Avram Grant at the helm, West Ham has started the season slowly falling to two defeats against Bolton Wanderers and a manager less Aston Villa. Their sole victory coming in the Carling Cup thanks to an injury time Scott Parker goal to seal a 1-0 victory over Oxford United.
The defence as a whole struggled against the power and size of Bobby Zamora, especially Jonny Evans, who perhaps had his toughest game in a United shirt. He was by no means the only player to struggle. Against West Ham the defence will come up against a similar player in Carlton Cole, although Zamora is better. There are perhaps suggestions for Chris Smalling to make his first start after a commanding performance for the reserves against Manchester City, in the Manchester Senior Cup. I’d be inclined to stick by Evans; he is young defender and will endure the odd poor game. Last week is a continuation of his learning period and the experience will no doubt be a benefit to him.
After his cameo last weekend Nani will be a shoo-in to start. He added a directness and creative spark which had been missing during the second half. The question is on which wing? After impressing against Chelsea in the Community Shield, Antonio Valencia has so far struggled to recapture his form. He perhaps is not 100% match fit after sustaining an injury against Tottenham Hotspur towards the end of last season. He operates well alongside an attacking full back – ideally Rafael. John O’Shea is yet to offer him this support, however to be overly critical of O’Shea would be harsh as he himself is recovering from a long term injury. If O’Shea retains his place in team Nani could be an option on the right with Giggs on the left who is yet to start a game this season. Personally, I’d prefer Valencia on the right alongside Rafael and Nani on the left.
Paul Scholes has started the season absolutely magnificently – how we all wish he was ten years younger… However, I’d prefer Michael Carrick to start alongside Darren Fletcher in central midfield. This will provide Carrick valuable game time and with no United fixture next weekend (due to International matches) Scholes will have the opportunity of an extended rest.
Wayne Rooney should return to the starting line up after unavailable for the 2-2 draw at Craven Cottage due to a stomach bug. Rooney has failed to find the back of the net (thirteen matches) since he opened the scoring early in the away leg against Bayern Munich. Him missing the match against Fulham could be exactly what he needed – take him out the firing line if you will. I for one will not be surprised if Rooney grabs himself a couple of goals on Saturday.
Rooney’s forward partner is likely to be Dimitar Berbatov. The Bulgarian has started the season brightly scoring goals against Chelsea and Newcastle. During the first half against Fulham, Berbatov continued his early season form and was heavily involved. However, during the second half he faded and became less influential once Fulham started to dominate midfield. He will hope to have greater influence for the full ninety minutes.
Prediction: I apologise if this appears arrogant, but I’m predicting a 5-0 for Manchester United. Goal scorers: Rooney; Berbatov and Nani.