Manchester United vs. West Ham United – 3:00pm local time on Saturday, December 5, 2015 at Old Trafford
$1.45 at CrownBet.com
Table position: 3rd
League form: D D W W D
$8 at www.Sportsbet.com
Table position: 8th
League form: W L D L D
$4.50 at Bet365
Last five EPL meetings
West Ham 1-1 Man United
Man United 2-1 West Ham
West Ham 0-2 Man United
Man United 3-1 West Ham
West Ham 2-2 Man United
With the rest of the top six playing teams in the bottom half, Manchester United ($1.45 at CrownBet) will most likely need all three points this weekend to keep touch with the 2015-16 English Premier League pace-setters.
Normally that wouldn’t seem such an arduous task, but this West Ham United ($8 at Sportsbet) outfit is on the verge of completing an unprecedented quaddie.
For if Slaven Bilic’s men win at Old Trafford this Saturday, they will become the first team in EPL history to beat Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City and Man United away from home in a single season.
With that kind of track record, it’s little wonder Angelo Ogbonna was so confident when speaking to the official West Ham website this week.
“Any fear? No. We’re not afraid, because this is our job,” the Italian defender said.
“This is our passion, so we have to prepare everything without being afraid.”
The Irons have begun to fade after a strong start, with last week’s 1-1 draw against West Bromwich Albion extending their winless streak to four games.
Injuries to key men Dimitri Payet and Diafra Sakho haven’t helped, but Ogbonna was not interested in dwelling on past misfortunes.
“We have to look forward to the next game, a big game at Old Trafford,” the former Juventus player continued.
“We need all the support, not just of the team, but of our fans.
“We have another chance to do better.”
The visitors aren’t the only ones who need to lift their game.
Man United may be third on the table and only one point from top, but they have scored only five times in their last five Premier League games.
Juan Mata leads the club’s goal-getting charts with four, while strikers Wayne Rooney, Memphis Depay and Anthony Martial have mustered a grand tally of seven between them.
Yet they remain in the title race thanks to a defence which has conceded only 10 goals in 14 outings – fewer than any other team in the division.
But even that ultra-frugal back line couldn’t stop Jamie Vardy extending his record scoring streak to 11 games in a row, with United having to settle for a 1-1 draw in last week’s top-of-the-table clash at King Power Stadium.
The Red Devils’ style (or lack thereof) under Louis van Gaal has come under serious scrutiny, with many pundits claiming the Dutch manager is too rigid and hasn’t allowed his players to express themselves.
Former United and England defender Paul Parker went one step further this week, suggesting LVG had instilled a culture of fear within the playing group.
“When Louis van Gaal arrived at United, I thought he too would be flexible,” Parker wrote in his Eurosport blog.
“But we now have a situation where there are a lot of discontented players and we have to question why they are playing badly.
“I look at Anthony Martial and worry for him. He looks like a boy who doesn’t smile anymore. He doesn’t look like he’s enjoying himself.
“The form Memphis Depay is showing hasn’t just happened because he’s playing in the Premier League. That boy probably feels like a scapegoat.
“Ander Herrera is hugely popular with the fans because he makes things happen. Everyone loves to see players like that, but he’s barely playing and is probably unsettled.
“These players need freedom.
“Van Gaal puts the fear of God into players. It has to be his way. He selfishly manages the team. And no one enjoys it.
“He may be a successful manager, but he must learn – even at his age – to become a good man manager.
“At the moment we have to say he’s not man managing that team. All those players he’s got are not bad players, and they’ve not played negative football all their lives.
“He’s being incredibly stubborn.”
Man United team news
Wayne Rooney picked up an ankle knock at Leicester last week, but the United captain is expected to be fit in time for West Ham’s visit.
On the other hand, Jesse Lingard remains doubtful as he works his way back from a hamstring strain.
Ander Herrera (hamstring), Phil Jones (foot) and Marcos Rojo (knock) are all out of action, along with long-term casualties Luke Shaw (broken leg) and Antonio Valencia (foot).
Possible United XI: De Gea; Darmian, Smalling, Blind, McNair; Carrick, Schweinsteiger; Young, Mata, Martial; Rooney.
West Ham team news
The Hammers’ injury list isn’t a long one, but it features some significant names.
Diafra Sakho is the latest concern, with early reports suggesting the striker could miss up to three months after suffering a thigh strain in last week’s draw with West Brom.
He joins French playmaker Dimitri Payet, whose high ankle sprain is expected to keep him out of action until February 2016.
Also missing are Irish goalkeeper Darren Randolph (knee) and Ecuadorian forward Enner Valencia (foot), who has returned to his homeland for specialist treatment.
Possible West Ham XI: Adrian; Jenkinson, Reid, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Obiang, Kouyate, Lanzini; Moses, Carroll, Zarate.
– West Ham to win ($8 at www.Sportsbet.com)
– Over 2.5 match goals ($1.91 at William Hill)
– Both teams to score ($2.14 at CrownBet.com)
On paper, the Reds should have this one covered.
They haven’t lost to West Ham in the league since 2008, with 11 wins and two draws from their last 13 meetings.
Then there’s the fact the Hammers are missing arguably their two most dangerous players, with Payet and Sakho both facing several months on the sidelines.
But unfavourable odds and poor head-to-head records didn’t stop the Londoners surprising Arsenal on the opening day, or upsetting Manchester City at Eastlands, or ending their 52-year drought at Anfield.
We like a romantic bet with plenty of value behind it, so we’re tipping West Ham to add the Red Devils to their impressive list of giant slayings.
Man United first goalscorer odds
Wayne Rooney ($5.50 at Bet365)
With only two Premier League goals to his name this season, the England skipper has come under fire from all directions. He has scored three goals in his last three appearances against the Hammers, however, and should shake off any injury concerns in time to take his starting spot.
Juan Mata ($6.50 at William Hill)
Although four goals after 14 rounds might not seem an especially impressive tally, it’s more than any other United player has scored in EPL 2015-16 so far. The Spaniard is always a threat when he gets a little space, which could well be the case against a West Ham side which has let in 21 goals this season.
West Ham first goalscorer bets
Mauro Zarate ($15 at Bet365)
The Irons’ Argentine forward netted the opener last weekend to bring his season tally to three goals from only four Premier League starts. With a record like that, and with such good odds at our top-ranked online bookmakers, it’s hard not to back Zarate here.
Andy Carroll ($12 at Bet365)
With Sakho injured, the second-most expensive English player of all time could get a rare start at Old Trafford. The 26-year-old target man has one goal to his name this season, and he will have a chance to double that tally if he gets the nod over Nikica Jelavic.
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