It’s not often that you find yourselves playing an opposition back-to-back, but that’s the scenario that Manchester United and West Ham are facing this Wednesday evening. If it produces even half the drama from the clash on Sunday afternoon, the neutrals are in for a treat.
The Red Devils will be looking to make it consecutive wins over the Hammers, after their 2-1 victory at the weekend. David de Gea was the hero on the day, saving a last minute penalty from Mark Noble. The Spaniard has enjoyed a strong start to the campaign, helping form a United back-line that currently picks itself on paper.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær and co were evidently on a high upon the full-time whistle, but attention must quickly be diverted. Silverware is a strong metric in determining success this season, and the EFL Cup should certainly be deemed a winnable competition.
In what will be the third round of the tournament, the game will be shown live on Sky Sports, with kick-off at 7:45pm.
Whilst there is room for improvement from a performance standpoint, United have started the season strongly. They have won 4 of their opening 6 fixtures, losing just once. Goals have not been few and far between, with Cristiano Ronaldo playing his part. He registered his 4th from just 3 games on Sunday, showcasing that his poaching instincts are certainly still there, and that they will continue to cause issues for the opposition.
The forward’s goal set the Red Devils on their way for a third successive Premier League win, with Jesse Lingard‘s late strike finalising the three points. This was also the Englishman’s second goal in as many games, making him the club’s fourth player this season to register 2+ goals. From an attacking point of view, there is plenty to admire in this United team.
A clean sheet would be welcomed, with the side managing just one so far. Looking at West Ham’s start to their own campaign though, this won’t be a straight forward task. David Moyes‘ side have racked up 13 from their opening 6 fixtures, winning 3 times. Their loss to United was actually their first of the season, a testament to the resilient side that the former Old Trafford boss has managed to establish down in the capital.
Solskjær has already confirmed that we will see a ‘few changes’ in the United side on Wednesday evening, with Lingard guaranteed to feature at some point. The manager was full of praise of the Englishman’s quick bounce-back from his Champions League disappointment, making a start seem likely.
Marcus Rashford remains the only definite casualty, although there remains doubts over the fitness of Dean Henderson, Alex Telles and Edinson Cavani. This is unfortunate timing for the trio, of whom would have expected to come into the XI for such cup games.
It remains to be a guessing game as to where else Solskjaer will rotate. Many fans will be expecting to see Diogo Dalot be given a run-around, and the same can also be said for Donny van de Beek. Given that he started against Young Boys, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Victor Lindelof be brought into the picture either.
West Ham boast a clean bill of health coming into the game, with Michail Antonio also back from suspension. This will be the Hammers’ third game in the space of a week though, so some rotation is expected. Issa Diop and Manuel Lanzini could come back into the fold, with both players missing out on the game at the weekend. Their squad isn’t bolstered to the rims like United’s, but Moyes still has a few names to play around with. With no trophy in over forty years though, this won’t be seen as a game simply for the ‘kids’.
Ones to watch out for
After his stunning winner on Sunday, all eyes will be back on Lingard.
He was subject to mass volumes of criticism for his intercepted back-pass last Tuesday, but one week on, now finds himself the hero of the hour. Things change fast in football.
Full of confidence, the 28-year-old will be keen to prove his worth once again. So often is this the case with Lingard, being a player that is continuously ridiculed with the spotlight closely on him. In what could be his first start for the club since January 2019, the midfielder should relish the challenge.
5 games. 4 goals. 3 assists. In the opposing corner, Antonio has been one of the top performers in the country so far this season. His suspension at the weekend was light-heartedly celebrated by the United fan-base, given the troubles that the pacey forward poses. The Jamaican representative converted a penalty at Old Trafford back in July 2020 – surely another spot-kick saga won’t dominate the narrative this time around again.
Trophy or bust for Solskjær?
December 19 will mark the third year anniversary of Solskjær taking charge at United. The club have undergone a successful and desperately needed rebuild during his tenure, but a lack of silverware continues to cloud over his progress.
Any trophy will do for the Norwegian, to build some breathing room between himself and his persistent doubters, provided United stay near the top of the table too, of course. It won’t be high on the list of supporter’s wish-list this season, but the Carabao Cup could provide such an avenue.
This squad is most certainly capable of going the distance across the board, and anything bar victory on Wednesday would spark serious concerns.