West Ham United bid farewell to the Boleyn Ground with a clash with Champions League-chasing Manchester United this midweek (7.45pm Tuesday on Sky Sports 1).
United’s hopes of a top-four finish were given a major boost at the weekend, their own 1-0 victory over Norwich City on Saturday followed a day later by Manchester City dropping two points with a 2-2 draw at home to Arsenal.
The final Champions League spot is now in the Red Devils’ hands, with two wins in the coming days against West Ham and Bournemouth enough for Louis van Gaal’s side to sneak into fourth spot. While Man Utd have still underachieved this year, overtaking rivals City and qualifying for Europe’s premier club competition would at least salvage something from the 2015/16 campaign, and could even lead to the Dutchman being allowed to see out his three-year contract at Old Trafford.
West Ham were still in an excellent position to overhaul both City and United a few days ago, but a 4-1 thrashing at the hands of Swansea City saw them slip down to seventh place and put a top-four spot beyond them. The Hammers were surprisingly flat against Francesco Guidolin’s charges on Saturday afternoon, lacking a spark at the top of the pitch and allowing their clinical opponents to take full advantage of a few defensive mishaps at the other end. West Ham – who have nevertheless exceeded expectations this term – can still secure a Europa League spot, though, with the atmosphere likely to be scintillating in east London on Tuesday night.
Man Utd will have to make do without Matteo Darmian (ankle), Bastian Schweinsteiger (knee), Luke Shaw (broken leg) and Will Keane (groin) at Upton Park, while Anthony Martial – who was due to start at Norwich but pulled out of the matchday squad in the warmup – may also miss out with a hamstring injury.
Teenage sensation Marcus Rashford (pictured) will return after being rested by Van Gaal at the weekend, with Daley Blind also set to be restored to the heart of the backline. Wayne Rooney is likely to drop back into a midfield role to make room for Rashford in the XI, and Juan Mata is in line to start following his pivotal match-winning goal on Saturday.
Slaven Bilic and West Ham, meanwhile, will be unable to call upon the services of right-back Carl Jenkinson (knee) and goalkeeper Adrian, whose season may have been ended by a calf strain. Darren Randolph will again start between the sticks in the Spaniard’s absence, but Michail Antonio could be moved from the right side of the back four following a disappointing display against Swansea on Saturday. Andy Carroll has done enough in recent weeks to keep his place as the line-leading centre-forward up top, with Manuel Lanzini and Dimitri Payet likely to be joined by Diafra Sakho in the group of three behind the England international.
West Ham’s chances of a top-four finish might have ended at the weekend, but they will still be desperate to pick up a victory in the final ever competitive game at their famous old stadium. United need the points for the Champions League, though – a draw would hand City the initiative going into the final day – and will take confidence from their FA Cup quarter-final replay win at Upton Park last month.
Our match preview’s conclusion is that backing a draw looks to be the best bet when the pair meet in the capital on Tuesday. West Ham are likely to start strongly and attack Man Utd from the first whistle, but Van Gaal’s men are adept at taking the sting out of matches by controlling possession and slowing things down. The odds on a 1-1 make that a tempting wager, while Carroll could be a good choice for anytime goalscorer.