Tomorrow brings with it an extension to the festive season as the football season gives us one of its greatest gifts – the FA Cup. Sure there have been two rounds previous but this, the third round, is where it all happens. The footballing romantics, myself included, look forward to this competition as much as any. Will tomorrow’s fixture at Upton Park shower us in the beautiful and sublime?
Sir Alex welcomes back Vidic and Jones to an impressive looking and fully fit defence on the back of a rare clean sheet in their previous fixture. Nani, although returned to training, is not match fit but does appear to have a future at the club after Ferguson’s festive comments. Rooney continues to rest his sore knee which, according to Ferguson, will see him out until after the Liverpool game next weekend. Other than that United look in good shape.
For the Hammers, captain Kevin Nolan and defender James Collins return from suspensions and Joe Cole is in the squad to play. Carroll and Diame are still out whilst O’Brien is a doubt.
• United has won eight of the last nine fixtures between the two clubs.
• West Ham, however, holds a 4-3 advantage in fixtures between the two in this competition.
• West Ham has won the FA Cup three times.
• Manchester United boasts lifting the trophy eleven times – five of those under Sir Alex’s watch.
• The last six times West Ham has drawn Premiership opposition in the FA Cup they have lost.
Sir Alex Ferguson has stressed to his players, according to defender Chris Smalling, that it’s time that the club got their hands on the famous cup once more. United’s recent record in the FA Cup is poor but this is at the expense of some league titles and Champions’ League final appearances. It is entirely possible that the heady treble days of 1999 are long gone. Even though Smalling is quoted as saying “The manager has made the point to us that we have not done too well in the last few years [so] we need to make sure we get back on track in the competition,” it cannot be ignored that this fixture will be used as an opportunity to rest several players. Even though Fergie would want, in Smalling’s words, “to do well in this [the FA Cup] as well,” I’m sure he’d sacrifice a good cup run for title number twenty or, for the dreamers amongst us, European title number four. Am I hinting that Ferguson doesn’t care about the FA Cup? Not at all. If popular belief is to be, ahem, believed, then this was the cup that saved him his job and started him towards being the most successful manager these shores have ever produced. What I am alluding to is that Ferguson will use this fixture to rest several players. Near omnipotent players such as Evra, Carrick and Van Persie are sure to be rested tomorrow affording Fletcher, Buttner and Welbeck some game time. Kagawa is likely to start in an attempt to put more footballing miles on his clock, as is Jones, Vidic and maybe Smalling himself.
This is going to be a tough ask as lots of players who maybe haven’t played for a while will be thrown in at Upton Park in front of a passionate crowd who will expect a result. Depending on the value that Sam Allardyce puts on this cup and, therefore, this fixture I can see this being a very tight affair indeed. United (Manchester!) to nick it 2-1.
Fancy a Flutter? (Odds supplied by WilliamHill)
• Welbeck to score and United to win @6/1
• West Ham winning half time, United to win overall @22/1
• Joe Cole to score first @12/1
• Cleverley to score first and United to win 2-1 @50/1