Manchester United vs. West Ham United sees the Red Devils' season risk being effectively over in March if Louis van Gaal's men cannot find victory against Slaven Bilic's Hammers.
This FA Cup sixth-round tie is vital to Manchester United given their 2-0 deficit in their Europa League round-of-16 tie with Liverpool and their unpromising league position. Bilic's West Ham on the other hand are enjoying unexpected league success and are in with a genuine shot at a Champions League place, sitting just two points off fourth place.
Unbeaten in six games and excellent on the road this season, West Ham will surely not be overwhelmed at the prospect of facing Van Gaal's side. Speaking to the press ahead of this one, Bilic said, per Sky Sports:
We want the game to start, and we are doing everything to reach Wembley. We are confident of getting a result on Sunday as we are playing well and have more options now as players are back from injury.
We are going to one of the biggest stadiums and it will be very difficult. But we are very confident going into the game.
He also said expected Manchester United would be a "wounded animal" following their loss to Liverpool on Thursday.
When Van Gaal was asked whether his team could overcome their 2-0 deficit he replied, per BBC Sport, "It is not impossible. Against West Ham United, it is also possible. At Old Trafford, we normally win our games."
The much-maligned Dutchman has a point—Manchester United are averaging two points per game in the league this season at home, per Statto.com. They did, though, get knocked out of the League Cup at Old Trafford.
With West Ham unbeaten in six and Manchester United reeling from back-to-back defeats, this could be a close affair.
Date: Sunday, March 13, 2016
Time: 4 p.m. GMT/11 a.m. ET
Venue: Old Trafford, Manchester, England
TV Info: BT Sport 2 (UK only)/Fox Sports 1 (U.S. only)
Manchester United: WWWWLL
West Ham United: WDWWWW
Manchester United's website reports:
United are without Wayne Rooney (knee), Luke Shaw (leg) and Ashley Young(groin/pelvis), but Marouane Fellaini and Bastian Schweinsteiger both returned to action against Liverpool. Antonio Valencia, Phil Jones and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson are nearing a return while Jesse Lingard should also rejoin the squad after missing the game at Anfield through suspension.
Additionally, as reported by Samuel Luckhurst of Manchester Evening News, 17 year-old RoShaun Williams is in the first-team squad for the first time.
Of West Ham, BBC Sport reports:
Enner Valencia, Victor Moses and Joey O'Brien [are] available following injury lay-offs.
Winston Reid could also return, but fellow defenders James Tomkins and James Collins are injured and Sam Byram is cup-tied.
There are ifs and maybes all over this potential XI. First, there is every chance Guillermo Varela will be preferred to Matteo Darmian. Darmian gets the nod thanks to his defensive nous in dealing with the threat of Dimitri Payet.
In midfield, Michael Carrick could feature instead of either of the above selections. He could also play at centre-back in a back three, as he did in the second half against Liverpool, although that would seem a gamble.
There is the potential for a surprise in the front four, also. Could Adnan Januzaj or Andreas Pereira get a run out? The assumption above is that Marcus Rashford will be rested, but he could, of course, feature.
According to WhoScored.com, West Ham are likely to line up as above. The site wrote, "Having recovered some important players, Bilic should revert back to a four-man defence. Emmanuel Emenike could also start up front, while Manuel Lanzini should also get some more minutes as he steps up his return."
Darren Randolph will play in goal ahead of Adrian, as Bilic has promised him the spot during FA Cup games, per PA Sport (h/t Sky Sports).
Players to Watch
Manchester United's last two performances—indeed their last three, given the home win against Watford was on the fortunate side—have been so poor, it's hard to pick an in-form player.
The closest they have is Anthony Martial who at least looked reasonably bright against West Bromwich Albion. In a less positive sense, it will be worth keeping an eye on Daley Blind who has been way below his best for the past few games. The Netherlands international really looks like he could use a break, but given the rest of United's defensive injuries, that break does not seem forthcoming.
West Ham, on the other hand, have a very obvious player to watch. Payet is the clearest attacking threat, and was much missed when the Hammers visited Old Trafford in December. He has eight goals and seven assists in the league this season, putting him atop both the Irons' scoring and providing charts.
He is averaging two shots and 3.9 key passes per 90 minutes of league action, and he's one of the English top flight's most creative players.
Although Manchester United are at home, the key battle is likely to be Payet against Darmian or Varela, particularly if the Hammers are able to hit the Red Devils on the counter-attack. United's full-backs play an important part in their possession-based attacking play, and Payet will seek to exploit any space created if they stray too far from their defensive duties.
Manchester United: 68-67
West Ham United: 16-5
Odds for the game correct at the time of writing, per Odds Checker.
Advanced statistics per WhoScored.com.