The FourFourTwo Preview: Man United vs West Ham
The “your guess is as good as mine” derby.
MAN UNITED FORM
- Leicester 5-3 Man Utd (Prem)
- Man Utd 4-0 QPR (Prem)
- Burnley 0-0 Man Utd (Prem)
- MK Dons 4-0 Man Utd (LC)
- S’land 1-1 Man Utd (Prem)
WEST HAM FORM
- West Ham 3-1 Liverpool (Prem)
- Hull 2-2 West Ham (Prem)
- West Ham 1-3 So’ton (Prem)
- West Ham 1-1p Sheff Utd (LC)
- Palace 1-3 West Ham (Prem)
Where the hell to start with this fixture?
On the one hand, here we have the normally solid and defensive-minded West Ham responding to pressure from fans to play more expansive, entertaining football, which has resulted in them looking more exposed at the back.
On the other you have a Manchester United side with a frontline that would get most football fans hot under the collar, but a backline that appears to be constructed out of still-drying paper mache. This is the archetypal “but which side will turn up today?” game for both sides.
Angel Di Maria’s substitution during the 5-3 bizarre-athon that romped out over at the King Power Stadium was a major turning point for United – something that may well never be repeated by Louis van Gaal unless the Argentine has a limb hanging off. So integral is he in not only getting the ball to that lethal frontline but also getting it away from the wobbly, inexperienced backline, United simply can’t do without him.
The challenge for Sam Allardyce will be trying to find some balance between marshalling Di Maria while maintaining the impetus of West Ham’s early-season attacking abandon.
Were both managers to go hammer and tongs for this one, we could be in for another King Power scoreline.
Man United don’t have Jonny Evans after he stacked it in the 5-3, damaging an ankle. Robin van Persie’s indifferent start to the season may be recognised with a place on the bench as Van Gaal continues to experiment around new arrival Radamel Falcao. Tyler Blackett is suspended.
West Ham lost the influential Cheikhou Kouyate to a groin injury sustained during the 3-1 over Liverpool last weekend. With Kevin Nolan still a little way from a return, the Irons are likely to start with either Morgan Amalfitano or Mauro Zarate, depending on how Allardyce sets up his team. Andy Carroll's recovery from summer ankle surgery is going "better than expected", meanwhile.
Player to watch: Stewart Downing (West Ham)
It’s been a revelatory last few games for the Middlesbrough lad. Normally associated with bothering the byline after tricky wing play, he’s been moved into the middle, fulfilling the role of playmaker to great effect.
One of the interesting things to note about Downing’s last two performances in this role is how he’s been deployed at home and away from Upton Park.
Against Liverpool, he had fewer touches but still popped up with an assist. Away at Hull he was roving all over the front of the box as West Ham pressed and pressed for a goal. If the Hammers are feeling at all gung-ho, Downing will be key to causing the Red Devils’ defence problems.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- W Ham 0-2 United (PL, Mar 14)
- United 3-1 W Ham (PL, Dec 13)
- W Ham 2-2 United (PL, Apr 13)
- United 1-0 W Ham (FAC, Jan 13)
- W Ham 2-2 United (FAC, Jan 13)
Two big personalities in the technical areas at Old Trafford, but Allardyce will be the one with swagger as he takes his place in the dugout. Playing without fear will start to come naturally to the Hammers, but they’re not there yet and it’s up to Big Sam to settle the nerves and keep his team going in the right direction.
Van Gaal’s win against QPR was hailed as a new dawn for United but the Dutchman is way too experienced to have fallen for that hyperbole. He knows there’s a long way to go… roughly £100 million worth according to Phil Neville.
Facts and figures
- United’s total of 5 points from 5 games is their worst haul at this stage since 1989/90.
- West Ham have netted a league-high 4 goals from outside the box this season.
- Allardyce’s side have the best cross-completion rate in the top flight this season (24.36%) while only Arsenal’s is lower than United’s (12.12%).
More FFT Stats Zone facts
A cheeky 2-1 away win for the happy Hammers… or an 8-6 home win. Take your pick.