Wednesday night features some massive Champions League games, but the FA Cup has also thrown up a mouth-watering quarter final replay between West Ham and Manchester United. The two teams have had to wait a long time to renew rivalries since the 1-1 draw at Old Trafford back on the 13th of March, and this game is full of significance for both clubs and both sets of supporters.
For Irons fans it represents the last ever cup tie under the lights at their famous Upton Park stadium, and an outing at Wembley for a semi-final against Everton awaits the winners. For Man United fans this provides their last hope of silverware this season, and with the top four slipping away from their grasp, it could be the only silver-lining of a lacklustre year under Louis van Gaal. There’s a huge amount to play for but the bookies might be a little out of line by pricing up the two teams with equal chances of winning. While United have stuttered over the last couple of months, West Ham have continued to pick up results and are unbeaten in ten games. They are also unbeaten in sixteen at home, and you have to go back to August for the last time they were defeated in front of the Boleyn faithful.
Hammers Home Spirit
The 3-3 draw with Arsenal was testament to the spirit Slaven Bilic has instilled at the club since his arrival at the start of the season, and despite going two goals down the Hammers fought back with an Andy Carroll hat-trick before being pegged back by the Gunners for the draw. That made it four draws and six wins from the last ten at home, and with the crowd expected to create a ferocious atmosphere, they could be too strong for a Man United side that continues to show signs of weakness.
United’s Weak Travellers
It’s now five defeats in the last seven for Louis van Gaal and there is no reason why they should be expected to put on an improved performance here. They were set up very much to contain Spurs at White Hart Lane on Sunday, as their one shot on target testifies, but they were undone by three quick-fire second half goals after the impressive Fosu-Mensah was withdrawn through injury.
That defeat followed losses at Sunderland, Midtjylland, West Brom and Liverpool, and although they won the Manchester Derby 1-0 at the Etihad, the overall profile is of a side that is weak on the road. They’ve only scored one goal in the last four away games, and just five in the last eight games home and away. By way of comparison West Ham have scored a whopping 18 in their last eight games, and seven goals in their last four at home.
Louis van Gaal said he was pleased with how his team performed up until the first goal went in at Spurs, but the way in which the team collapsed from that point on was surely cause for concern. Less that six minutes separated the Tottenham goals and the defensive line of United looked decidedly shaky as the men in white spurned several presentable opportunities to make the scoreline more embarrassing. Marcus Rashford was surprisingly taken off at half time after making his 10th start in a row, with Ashley Young brought on to play furthest up the pitch. He was ineffective in that role, and the return of Wayne Rooney can’t come quick enough. The England marksman is set to have a run out with United’s under-21 side on Monday evening, and if he comes through that he could take his place in the squad, but the match will surely come to soon for him to have a major impact.
West Ham have welcomed back their own big striker in recent weeks, and it was Andy Carroll who made all the difference in the 3-3 draw with Arsenal. The towering hitman was labelled unplayable by boss Slaven Bilic after the game, and the hat-trick hero said he hasn’t given up hope of forcing his way back into Roy Hodgson’s England squad for the European Championships. It may all be too little too late for that to happen, but there is no doubt that Carroll will be busting a gut between now and the end of the season. It’s been a feature of West Ham’s play to isolate one of the opposing full backs against Carroll when balls are delivered into the box, and with Rojo and Darmian likely to occupy those positions for Man United on Wednesday night it could be an area where the Hammers find joy again.
There was little for Red Devils fans to get excited about going forward against Spurs on Sunday, and they managed just five attempts at goal compared to Tottenham’s sixteen. Young Rashford will probably lead the line again while Anthony Martial looks more dangerous than most cutting in from the left. The right back position has been a problem for West Ham recently where Michail Antonio has been filling in. The experiment with a 3-5-2 formation was shelved at half-time against Arsenal, and it could be the powerful winger who is asked to face up to Martial on that flank – just as he was in the first match at Old Trafford. Louis van Gaal may look to exploit his defensive inexperience and that could prove to be United’s best source of creativity on the night.
However, on balance there is no way that these two sides should be priced as if they have an equal chance of winning, and with home advantage it should pay to side with the Hammers to give the Boleyn Ground a fitting FA Cup farewell and book their place in the semi final.
West Ham to beat Manchester United
Wednesday 13th April, 19:00 GMT