Ander Herrera, Phil Jones and Antonio Valencia look certain to miss out for United, while Jesse Lingard is a doubt. Marcos Rojo is missing after dislocating his shoulder in training, and Louis van Gaal has confirmed that Wayne Rooney is out with an ankle problem. Luke Shaw is a long-term absentee.
That’s four full-backs missing, which means Matteo Darmian starting on the right and probably Ashley Young on the left, perhaps in the 3-4-1-2 formation Van Gaal adopted in the 1-1 draw at Leicester City last Saturday.
West Ham’s injury problems continue to mount. The most significant is probably Dmitri Payet, whose creative brain has been missed in recent weeks, but Enner Valencia has an ankle injury and Diafra Sakho is struggling with a thigh strain, leaving West Ham short of attacking options.
West Ham have suffered a notable dip recently, taking just two points from their last four games, the second of which saw Payet’s injury. They have, though, already won away to Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City this season, as well as beating Chelsea at home, even if that proud record against the putative top six was rather besmirched by the 4-1 defeat at Tottenham a fortnight ago.
United plod relentlessly on, third in the table and just a point off the top, but having drawn three of their last six games, largely because of an inability to break sides down. Last season United won the equivalent fixture at Old Trafford 2-1, in a game that saw Rooney sent off, and Daley Blind scored a late equaliser at Upton Park to secure a 1-1 draw.
Injury issues may force Van Gaal’s hand. The use of it at Leicester last week was the first appearance for the back three this season and, while there may be a temptation to try to drive West Ham back by adding a midfielder in a 4-2-3-1, a lack of options means it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the 3-4-1-2 used again. Rooney’s run of poor form us so protracted now that it may be that his absence is almost beneficial, allowing Anthony Martial and Memphis Depay to reprise the dynamic and unpredictable front pairing they showcased in the win at Watford two weeks ago, with Juan Mata taking on the role Herrera performed that day, sitting behind them almost as an old-fashioned playmaker.
WEST HAM’S THREAT
With no Sakho, it will presumably be Andy Carroll leading the line. Against a back four, its possible to imagine him isolating Blind – although the expectation that Blind will be exposed by a powerful centre-forward has been a constant all season and it hasn’t happened yet.
The question then is whether Slaven Bilic plays three creators behind Carroll as he has tended to do recently, or whether he reverts to the policy that saw off Arsenal and Liverpool and opts for just two, probably Manuel Lanzini and Mauro Zarate.
Using two players in that area, though, risks them being overrun by the strongest part of United’s side, the back of their midfield, and also effectively leaves the flanks free for United’s full-backs or wing-backs. So while the temptation may be to go for the additional security of a holding midfield three of Mark Noble, Cheikhou Kouyate and Pedro Obiang (or Alex Song), there are associated risks.
UNITED’S LACK OF PENETRATION
Scoring against United is difficult. They’ve conceded just three times in their last ten games in all competitions. The problem is that in that time they’ve scored only 12. The game plan to stopping United is simple: sit deep, deny them room in behind and let them pass the ball around where it doesn’t hurt you.
West Ham’s problem is that they haven’t kept a clean sheet in nine games. They may know what to do, but having the concentration to do that is another issue, even if they will have James Collins back from suspension. But still the issue for United remains, as they try to assimilate Van Gaal’s process, have they forgotten how to break teams down?
Everything about this game screams out narrow United win. The question is how narrow. There’s a temptation to back West Ham +1.25 at 1.80, which would at least cover the eventuality of United failing to score at home for the fifth time this season, but if that’s your way of thinking, it probably makes more sense to back United to score fewer than 1.5 goals at 2.17.
More enticing, though, is probably backing United to win to nil at 2.23 or, perhaps even more sensible, given United haven’t scored more than two at home since beating Sunderland in September, Dutching some correct score bets: probably 1-0 (6.75), 2-0 (7.00) and 2-1 (9.00).