There is something very unusual occurring at West Ham, almost defying the natural laws of football physics.
As children, didn’t we learn that after the Christmas/New Year decorations were hoisted high around London, West Ham’s fortunes fell down soon thereafter? All part of being a West Ham fan, we thought.
However, there were always enough good results to keep us ever hopeful. However, did anyone really believe 12 months ago that we would witness a situation in which we could potentially beat any team in the Premier League?
Furthermore, could we predict that our beloved West Ham would play some of the most attractive, attacking football against the established ‘giants’ of English football?
Over the past week we have played some beautiful stuff against Spurs and Everton. Granted we did not always keep up the momentum for the full 90 minutes of each encounter, but we provided sufficient evidence to indicate that a West Ham way has always been waiting to unleash itself on the best of our opponents.
We are now on the threshold of something very special, but there is still plenty of work required to convert a good season into a truly memorable journey. So, we turn our attention to the next step on the pathway to FA Cup glory, as we face Manchester United at Old Trafford.
On face value, football wisdom would suggest that this is a game that we can, and should, win. However, we have not fully overcome our slow-start syndrome, which has made the scoring of those all important early goals so much harder. As a team, this should be a priority issue if we are serious about winning five or six games in a row.
Man United have not had a consistently good year, including the recent, unexpected loss to West Bromwich Albion. However, there is no room for complacency against any Man United team. Let us remember that we are talking about one of the best football teams in the history of the game, adored by millions of people around the world.
In addition, one would be foolish to underestimate the astute managerial qualities of Louis van Gaal. He will have had the entire week to put together a strategic approach, which will try to match the wits of Slaven Bilic.
That said, we should feel confident of winning this game.
For the first time in a while, Slaven has a potential starting line-up of enormous strike power…
Max’s predicted starting XI v. Man United…
Enner Valencia and Diafra Sakho are probably the pick of the striking quartet. The midfield looks very menacing, with Payet and Lanzini tucked conveniently behind the strikers; both great playmakers, and each capable of scoring from numerous types of threatening situations.
While I have placed Payet into a wider spot, Lanzini could easily patrol the wider territory, allowing Payet to launch from a slightly more central position behind the two strikers.
Noble and Kouyate would adopt the central midfield positions; Noble usually plays a more anchoring role, but in recent games has shown a willingness to strike from as far as 20-25yards.
Kouyate is a tower of strength in the early and judicious interception of counter-attacking moves; furthermore, he has scored some great goals at the end point of well-timed runs into open spaces. In addition, he is a constant menace at set-pieces, with his ability to out-jump opponents and head the ball with considerable force.
While I have nominally placed Antonio at the right wing back position, he continues to use his pace and acceleration to move into a classical winger’s position or, when required, occupy a quasi right-back defensive role.
His goal-scoring contributions have been most impressive since breaking into the first-team; he possesses excellent heading talents and isn’t shy in striking powerfully with either foot.
The return of Winston Reid should work well next to Angelo Ogbonna, with the majority of defending occurring between the two centre-backs in addition to Noble and Kouyate.
This leaves, Aaron Cresswell, who I have pushed up to a left wing back position, from where he is able to launch on his offensive left sided runs. Considering Cressie’s ability to score some beautifully placed goals, we could start a game with as many as eight players capable of goal scoring; about as good as it gets?
This selection could allow impact roles for Emenike, Carroll, and Moses as additional goal poachers, while Obiang and Song could also play important play making duties from midfield.
So we have all the necessary ingredients to conjure a win. However, I am compelled to remind all concerned that it is imperative that we are faster to settle the tempo with a mix of pace, well-timed passes and early dominance.
Scoring the first goal and then following that up with a second should send us on our way to Wembley.