Overly long writings about West Ham United FC. This is the kind of thing you might like, if you like this kind of thing.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

West Ham United vs Manchester United: Match Preview - 08/02/2009

1. Opposition

Let’s face it, Manchester United are formidable and likely to be the best team we face this year. They are the most well-equipped outfit in the league and seemingly nailed-on for the title.

Manager Sir Alex Ferguson continues to strengthen and we are continually taunted as former-Hammers contribute meaningfully, with Rio Ferdinand established as captain and Michael Carrick outstanding in recent weeks.

The acquisition of Dimitar Berbatov from tottenham in the summer has proven to be another good piece of business, with the new Number 9 among the goals and showing why he is in that exclusive £30million bracket.

Earlier this season Berbatov made James Collins look as redundant as Sol Campbell's girlfriend in setting up United’s second goal during their 2-0 win at Old Trafford, and it would be good to see our in-form Welshman give the lithe Bulgarian a clump early doors.

I could go on about United’s wealth of resources, the resurgence of forever-young Ryan Giggs, Ronaldo’s 14-goals this season, the impenetrable Ferdinand-Vidic axis, the shrewd football of Paul Scholes, the emerging defensive Fabio twins, their ridiculous subs bench, the fact that Rooney, Ronaldo, Berbatov and Tevez have already scored 10 more goals between them this season than our entire squad, and on and on and on… but I don’t want you to get too down before kick-off.

Go on, cheer yourselves up with this:

2.January Sale

Calum Davenport got his move to Sunderland on loan until the end of the season, and the predicted ‘2-for-1’ offers on all West Ham staff never came to fruition.

As the curtain comes down on this particular window, I think we can be generally satisfied with the business conducted. The Board and management have successfully rebuffed offers for the players we want to keep whilst trimming the squad and wage bill as was necessary.

As most of the departures were Curbishley signings, they were likely all big earners and the exit of a few enabled us to substitute quantity for quality (Craig Bellamy notwithstanding, but we can get back to hating him now) with a couple of new arrivals.

tottenham continued their revolving door policy by re-signing Robbie Keane after his disastrous six months at Liverpool and Andrei Arshavin’s proposed move to Arsenal finally went through about 10 minutes ago, meaning both players will be eligible for Sunday’s north London derby, the appetiser to our match.

Wigan are sure to put Charles Insomnia to sleep with their brand of football and Manchester City further depleted Newcastle’s squad by taking Shay Given off their hands whilst sending disappointing Brazilian striker Jo on loan to Everton.

Long-time Mark Hughes target Roque Santa Cruz remained at Blackburn, unable to move whilst entranced by Sam Allardyce’s flabby jowls.

At least now we can rest in the knowledge that the remaining squad members want to play for us and won't be angling for a move any time soon.

3. Sur-Real Madrid

Undoubtedly the most bizarre piece of business in January was the loan signing of Julien Faubert by Spanish aristocrats, Real Madrid.

The strangest thing about this deal is not even that Real decided to relieve us of Faubert’s inability to cross the ball (which in itself is astounding), but that they were willing to pay us £1.5million for the privilege.

The ‘galacticos’ experiment which brought so many luminaries to the Bernabeu at the turn of the century must now seem as distant to Real fans as the stars themselves. Julien may well be better suited to the slower pace of La Liga and go on to prove himself a competent international, but it's a hell of a drop from Figo to Faubert.

Juande Ramos’ exposure to tottenham’s chronically unrealistic expectations has obviously had an effect on his cerebral capacity.

4. History

Last year’s corresponding fixture was arguably the highlight of the season.

Firstly, it saw the return to Upton Park of Pope Carlos Tevez. The little Argentine rightfully receiving a fantastic reception and appearing so taken aback by his welcome that it threw him off his game.

Secondly, we got to see some great football from United in the first half, culminating in Cristiano Ronaldo’s opening headed goal, an incisive and high speed counter attack with all the hallmarks of Manchester United at their free-flowing best.

Early in the second half, things began to turn in our favour as Ronaldo conspired to thrash his penalty wide of the post, spurning the chance to put the game beyond us. From then on, West Ham came increasingly to the fore, particularly with the introduction of King John Paintsil, who gave us a marauding quality fuelled by his enthusiastic abandon.

This was Paintsil’s finest moment in a West Ham shirt bar kicking Reo-Coker all over the pitch on the last day of last season, as his rabid gusto won us both the free-kick and corner from which Anton Ferdinand equalised and Matthew Upson got the winner.

Traditionally, we tend to do quite well against Man U at Upton Park and often make a good fist of it, despite us having dropped more Premiership points to United than any other team.

As we are currently the two form teams in the league and with both sides traditionally having an emphasis on attack, this game has the ingredients of an entertaining afternoon.

5. Master And Apprentice

Sunday will see our own young pretender, Gianfranco Zola, pit himself against the game’s elder statesman in Sir Alex Ferguson.

Ferguson is the one constant at the top of the Premier League since its inception, continually challenging for honours while others suffer a malaise (Wenger), get sacked (Mourinho) or go mental (Keegan).

Zola’s style and tactics have borne fruit these last few weeks and Steve Clarke’s contribution is there for all to see in much-improved defensive cohesion.

However, substitutions are one area where I have found our popular little Italian monkey a little underwhelming thus far. While his preparation and tactics are generally good, I am yet to see him make an inventive or inspired substitution in his four months at the helm.

While it’s obvious that Franco doesn’t have the resources of Ferguson, the one thing lacking from his management so far would be the ability to change the game from the bench.

One would’ve thought that the sheer chaos unfurled from Boa Morte’s curious choice of footwear would have an effect, but the Portuguese pill-popper is disappointingly yet to respond to my media campaign.

6. Case For The Defence

Traditionally, Man Utd are all about scoring goals, but more recently it has been their defensive efforts which have caught the eye.

A new Premiership record of 12 consecutive clean sheets has enabled them to grind out eight 1-0 wins this season.

Despite all these ominous statistics and United’s form, I still fancy us to score on Sunday. A ridiculous declaration given our attacking impotence against Arsenal, but if Katie ‘Jordan’ Price can become a best-selling novelist, then I’m willing to believe that anything is possible.

As for ourselves, whereas we were disappointing in our use of the ball at The Emirates, defensively we were sound. For all their possession, Arsenal fashioned only a couple of genuine chances and were routinely denied possession when they got down the business end of the pitch.

Collins and Upson were exceptional in their steadfastness whereas Parker and Behrami’s continual harassment of the opposition was excellent. It will take a similar effort on Sunday to compete with the Champions, but hopefully with a bit more attacking continuity thrown in.

7. Picture Book

Lucas Neill thinks, 'I hope he scores on Sunday so I can have a nibble on those shoulders. Note to self: remember the Tartare Sauce.'

8. The Govan-er

Unfortunately we are unlikely to see a re-enactment of 'Pardew vs Wenger' on the sidelines this weekend. Alex Ferguson should keep his fiery touchline temper in check as everyone’s favourite Sardinian simian is just too damn nice to argue with.

The Scot does seem to enjoy a red-faced barney with Wenger, Moyes, Hughes, linesmen, the 4th official, The Hague, Britain’s confused economic policy or anyone within barking distance.

I am particularly put in mind of the time he took umbrage with the BBC over allegations that his son was a cheating, nepotistic, untrustworthy lay-about with his pockets stuffed full of other people’s cash funnelled through his father’s office.

I haven’t seen anyone that angry since Pat Butcher woke to find Dean Ashton up to his elbows in her Garibaldis.