Upton Park, east London.
West Ham United meet Manchester United at Upton Park this weekend in a match that is important to each side for very different reasons.
West Ham have struggled badly in the Premier League so far. After finishing in a respectable ninth place last season, Gianfranco Zola’s team are currently battling relegation having picked up just 14 points from as many matches – leaving them in 17th spot.
The Hammers have certainly been an exciting team to watch this year. They are having no problems scoring; indeed they have bagged 22 goals in their last 11 games. However, over the same period they have conceded 26, highlighting the problems for Zola.
Manchester United’s youngsters recorded an important 2-0 League Cup victory over Tottenham Hotspur in midweek, but it will be the more established stars returning to the team for this trip to the capital.
Following Chelsea’s comprehensive 3-0 win over Arsenal, many pundits and observers have ruled the Gunners out of this season’s title race, which leaves just United as the challengers to what is starting to look like an unstoppable Blue machine.
The Red Devils are five points adrift at present, but as long as they can prevent the gap from worsening, Sir Alex Ferguson will remain confident given Chelsea’s predicted struggles when they lose key players like Didier Drogba and Michael Essien for January’s African Cup of Nations in Angola.
The visitors go in as heavy favourites to claim three important points, although they will be wary of the threat from what is very much a hit-and-miss West Ham team.
Nov 28: West Ham 5-3 Burnley
Nov 21: Hull City 3-3 West Ham
Nov 08: West Ham 1-2 Everton
Nov 04: West Ham 2-1 Aston Villa
Oct 31: Sunderland 2-2 West Ham
Dec 01: Manchester United 2-0 Tottenham Hotspur (League Cup)
Nov 28: Portsmouth 1-4 Manchester United
Nov 25: Manchester United 0-1 Besiktas (Champions League)
Nov 21: Manchester United 3-0 Everton
Nov 08: Chelsea 1-0 Manchester United
West Ham have a major doubt over Matthew Upson, who has a hamstring injury.
Carlton Cole has been ruled out until the New Year, while Valon Behrami (knee) joins Calum Davenport, Luis Boa Morte and Dean Ashton on the sidelines.
Alessandro Diamanti is unlikely to start the game, but Kieron Dyer may feature after a run-out for the reserves on Monday.
Possible starting XI (4-4-1-1): Green, Spector, Da Costa, Gabbidon, Ilunga, Collison, Kovac, Parker, Stanislas, Jimenez, Franco.
Manchester United are hopeful that goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar, who has been struggling with a knee injury, will be able to return after three games out to replace Tomasz Kuszczak.
Longer-term absentees Owen Hargreaves and Rio Ferdinand are definitely out, while the game could also come too soon for defenders Jonny Evans (calf) and John O'Shea (thigh).
Possible starting XI (4-4-2): Van der Sar, Neville, Brown, Vidic, Evra, Valencia, Fletcher, Scholes, Giggs, Rooney, Berbatov.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
West Ham – Scott Parker
Scott Parker has been one of the standout performers for West Ham in what has been a difficult season thus far. The former Chelsea midfielder plays a crucial role in creating chances and shielding the defence and will have to be on top of his game again in this one.
Manchester United – Wayne Rooney
Wayne Rooney bagged a hat-trick against Portsmouth last week and certainly looks set to challenge the likes of Didier Drogba, Fernando Torres and Jermain Defoe to be the Premier League’s top goal-scorer this season. With 10 to his name already, the England striker will be confident of adding to that tally.
West Ham are scoring goals freely, which gives them an excellent chance of beating the drop, but they do need to tighten things up at the other end.
Manchester United cannot afford many more slip-ups having already lost three times in seven away league matches to date, although few will be expecting them to add to that tally here.
It is hard to look past an away victory in a game which should have plenty of goals.
West Ham United 1-3 Manchester United
Chris Myson, Goal.com UK