Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 4/5
It’s round five in the 2021-22 Premier League season this weekend, and on Sunday afternoon, West Ham United will be welcoming Manchester United to the London Stadium on the back of very different results the two sides picked up in Europe during the week.
West Ham United
Having looked like serious contenders for top-four placement for a large portion of 2020-21, the Hammers finished sixth in the league and booked a place in the Europa League. They emerged victorious from the opening round of their campaign in the competition as they beat Dinamo in Zagreb by 0-2, courtesy of goals from Michail Antonio in the 21st and Declan Rice in the 50th minute. Speaking after the game, former Chelsea defender Kurt Zouma expressed the whole team’s satisfaction with the performance and the result, but manager David Moyes has warned his players that they mustn’t get carried away after winning one game in Europe.
The Croatia trip followed two wins (2-4 away to Newcastle and 4-1 at home against Leicester City) and two draws (2-2 at home against Crystal Palace and 0-0 away to Southampton) in the Premier League, a run which has West Ham currently in eighth place with eight points. However, the top end of the table is so closely packed at the moment that all the teams (Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Everton) occupying the top four places stand only two points above, with Manchester City, Brighton and Hove Albion and Tottenham Hotspur squeezed in between.
Moyes doesn’t have too many selection worries for this match, though the team are certain to miss Antonio upfront. The 31-year-old forward is suspended, after picking up a second yellow card in the fifth minute of stoppage time against Southampton. The only player missing through injury is defender Winston Reid, who will be away from action for a while yet.
Rice has been among the more talked-about players over the summer, and the 22-year-old will certainly be providing his team’s back line with protection against a team he’s recently been heavily linked with, alongside Tomas Soucek. Captain Mark Noble has long lost his place in the starting XI.
It remains to be seen what Moyes goes for without Antonio upfront, but it seems very likely that 31-year-old Ukraine international Andriy Yarmolenko gets the nod. It will also be interesting to see if his fine midweek performance gets Zouma into the team ahead of either Angelo Ogbonna or Craig Dawson. The place of Lukasz Fabianski between the posts is under no threat, as is that of Aaron Cresswell on the left defensive flank. Vladimir Coufal should, however, return to the lineup instead of Ryan Fredericks on the right.
The last week must’ve felt like a huge emotional roller coaster for Manchester United fans.
Much has been said among them, as well as in the press, about the return of Cristiano Ronaldo to the club after 12 incredibly successful years away, and the Portuguese delivered big-time on his second debut as he netted twice in the 4-1 win over Newcastle last Saturday. The hopes of supporters, as well as those within the club, of finally winning their first league title since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013, skyrocketed, but the joy didn’t last too long.
They were brought back down to Earth hard on Tuesday, when Ronaldo’s goal proved insufficient to ward off Swiss side Young Boys in the Champions League after Aaron Wan-Bissaka was shown a straight red in the 35th minute. Moumi Ngamaleu equalized just after the hour-mark, and Jesse Lingard, who spent the second half of 2020-21 on loan at West Ham, made a huge blunder in the final seconds of the match by sending a misplaced back-pass which set Theoson Siebatcheu up for a winner for the home side.
Back in the Premier League, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team lead the way, but as has been said, they’re on the same number of points as Chelsea, Liverpool and Everton, with Manchester City, Brighton and Hove Albion, Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham looming close behind. So far, they’ve beaten Leeds United at home by 5-1, drawn 1-1 away to Southampton, won 0-1 away to Wolverhampton Wanderers, and thrashed Newcastle at home.
The Young Boys match saw Paul Pogba shift further up the pitch and Donny van de Beek start in the middle of the park with Fred. This one should, however, see the experienced Nemanja Matic return and play alongside Pogba, with Mason Greenwood and Jadon Sancho on the wings. Ronaldo is set to continue upfront, supported closely from behind by Bruno Fernandes. Like Matic, Raphael Varane is likely to return to the lineup and take his place in the heart of defence with captain Harry Maguire.
Solskjaer cannot count on forwards Edinson Cavani and Marcus Rashford. The experienced Uruguayan should return to training at the start of next week, but Rashford will likely take another month to recover completely from the shoulder surgery he underwent during the summer. Winger Amad Diallo, midfielder Scott McTominay and left-back Alex Telles are out as well.
Manchester United will be extremely keen to put the Young Boys disappointment behind them on Sunday and looking to produce a much stronger performance. They will certainly need it against a very good West Ham side against which they are still favourites. What happens three days later, when these two teams meet in the Carabao Cup, is another matter.
Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 4/5
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