The race for the Premier League title has cooled down, with Manchester City emerging as the clear and obvious favorites after opening up a 11-point gap at the top of the table. However, there are a few more battles being fought lower down the table, with the race for top 4 and relegation heating up. This weekend brings to you a blockbuster clash between 4th placed West Ham United, who travel to Manchester to take on 7th placed Manchester United, in a game which will undoubtedly have huge ramifications in the race for the Champions League spots.
Manchester United have been poor this season, and it was evident in their first half against Brentford in the midweek fixture. The Red Devils were overrun by the Bees and only the heroic exploits of goalkeeper David de Gea ensured that they got to half-time with the score 0-0. However, a completely changed United side came out for the second half, as they got three clinical goals thanks to youngster Anthony Elanga, Mason Greenwood and substitute Marcus Rashford. A late blip saw the Bees get a goal back, but there were no more scares for the Red Devils as they marched home to some much needed 3 points. That result left them 2 points behind Saturday’s opponents, with a game in hand over the Hammers. Manager Ralf Rangnick has only lost one of his nine games in charge across all competitions, and will look forward to winning a second consecutive game for the first time in a month.
West Ham United were last in action against Leeds United at home, where they lost 3-2. A Jack Harrison hattrick was enough to give Leeds 3 points in a closely fought contest. Harrison scored his first after 10 minutes, only for Jarrod Bowen to equalize for the Irons. However, Harrison scored just three minutes after to give Leeds the lead heading into half-time. West Ham came out firing on all cylinders and created a few opportunities before Pablo Fornals equalized for 2-2. However, Harrison was on hand again, restoring Leeds’s lead after 8 minutes to give the Yorkshire based team a huge three points. David Moyes will be looking to bounce back against his old club, and will look to take advantage of the extra rest his boys have over United.
WHEN AND WHERE?
Date: Saturday, 22nd January 2022.
Time: 15:00 HRS BST.
Venue: Old Trafford, Greater Manchester.
Referee: Jonathan Moss.
Assistants: Marc Perry, Timothy Wood.
Fourth official: Michael Salisbury.
VAR: Paul Tierney.
Assistant VAR: Ian Hussin.
Manchester United were without Luke Shaw, Edinson Cavani and Aaron Wan-Bissaka in the midweek game against Brentford, with the former two missing out with injuries, while Wan-Bissaka was confirmed to be suffering an illness which is likely to keep him out on Saturday as well. However, Shaw and Cavani could return to the squad, although they are a huge doubt. Jadon Sancho was also missing from the matchday squad on Wednesday night, having given time off to attend a personal issue. Cristiano Ronaldo returned to the starting lineup in the midweek and is expected to lead the line again on Saturday. The issues between Rangnick and forward Anthony Martial seemed to have been resolved with the Frenchman making the bench against Brentford. Paul Pogba is still a couple of weeks away from a return, and has been ruled out against West Ham. Eric Bailly is still away at the Africa Cup of Nations.
West Ham United will be without Said Benrahma, with the Algerian forward also on AFCON duty. Central defender Kurt Zouma and midfielder Tomas Soucek missed out on the defeat against Leeds United last weekend with COVID-19, and it remains to see if they are back fit. Angelo Ogbonna is a long-term absentee and is ruled out along with veteran midfielder Mark Noble. Luckily for David Moyes, there are not a lot of injury issues in the squad and he has a lot of options to choose from.
Overcoming Manchester United will be a big task and an equally big success for West Ham United if they can do it. Both clubs are in the race for the coveted 4th and last spot for UCL qualification, and victory for either side will mean a lot. A win today would see Man United leapfrog West Ham and go one point clear of the Hammers. However, a win for West Ham would put more distance between them and other challengers like Tottenham Hotspurs, Arsenal as well as United.
David Moyes will be looking to create history against his old club on Saturday, aiming to become just the fourth team ever to win twice against United in the same season. He already got his revenge last time, knocking the Red Devils out of the Carabao Cup, and he will be now hoping to do it again this weekend.
Under Rangnick, United have looked to create more in possession, but have not been up to the standard. They were by far the second-best side against Brentford, and given their squad and the amount of talent and experience it has, they have to be far better. There were signs of a much improved United in the second half, and the German coach will hope that it is the same side that shows up on Saturday and takes the game by the scruff of its neck.
The Red Devils have looked vulnerable when hit on the counter, and that is where West Ham’s strength lies. They are building a good reputation for being a clinical side, and with the likes of Michail Antonio, Jarrod Bowen, Pablo Fornals and others, they have a real advantage on the break. Their midfield is stronger compared to that of United, with holding midfielder Declan Rice being a vital reason to that. Scott McTominay and Fred work hard in games, but they do not have the natural abilities of an out-and-out and defensive midfielder, which is where United are caught lacking.
Calling this a battle of midfield will be an injustice as West Ham’s best will be compared to Man United’s weakness. So, the London side have to capitalize on this advantage and look to work on the extremes of the pitch. However, they will also have to deal with the Red Devils’ packed attack and their fast and skillful attackers. Stifling their attack will be one of their main aims in the game, and it will be a good matchup which ultimately makes for a good and entertaining game of football.
The English winger is not one who is usually in the spotlight, but the 25-year-old has been brilliant this season. He is having his best season yet in the Premier League, scoring 6 goals and assisting 9, and is looking well on track to get his score tally into double figures. He has been one of the silent stars in this West Ham team that is punching well above its weight. The Irons under David Moyes have surprised everyone, challenging and narrowly missing out on UCL qualification last season, and being in the top 4 this season. Bowen has been a crucial cog in the wheel for the Hammers all season. He is on a good roll right now, scoring three and assisting three in his last 4 games in the league. He was a constant menace for Leeds defenders last weekend, and will look to replicate his performances from the last games again on Saturday.
Back with a brace of goals on Saturday and a brace of assists in the midweek, Bruno Fernandes showed why he was the main man for the United team before Cristiano Ronaldo’s arrival, and the Portuguese midfielder led from the front at Villa Park. He scored the goals and created as well, as he was the pallbearer of the United attack till Ronaldo’s arrival. However, since Ronaldo’s arrival, Fernandes has had to revel more in his creative role and the two Portuguese players have linked up well on occasion throughout the season. Fernandes was not played in his preferred and best position when Rangnick shifted to the 4-2-2-2, and as a result his goal contributions dried up. However, since changing formations, Bruno has again become the main creative outlet for the team now. He likes to play in number 10 or an advanced number 8 role, and with 4 G/A since moving back there, it was no doubt the best decision for Rangnick to change formations. He will the one to watch for again on Saturday.
MANCHESTER UNITED XI: David de Gea; Diogo Dalot, Victor Lindelof, Raphael Varane, Alex Telles; Scott McTominay, Fred; Mason Greenwood, Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford; Cristiano Ronaldo.
WEST HAM UNITED XI: Lukasz Fabianski; Vladimir Coufal, Issa Diop, Craig Dawson, Aaron Cresswell; Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek; Jarrod Bowen, Manuel Lanzini, Pablo Fornals; Michail Antonio.