Manchester United v West Ham United
Following a fifth league defeat of the season Sir Alex Ferguson spoke of a 'nervousness' riddling his team's play, while David Beckham cited a lack of 'confidence' among the players. West Ham could be forgiven for being quietly optimistic ahead of their visit to Old Trafford on Saturday, but at the same time the east Londoners must be prepared for a United backlash.
In addition to battling their own inconsistency the hosts have an old score to settle with the Hammers after a Paolo Di Canio goal sent the champions crashing out of the FA Cup on home soil last season. The match included one of 'keeper Fabien Barthez's repertoire of crazy antics after he famously appealed for offside in a bid to put the Italian striker off, only to be coolly beaten by the winner.
The enigmatic Frenchman has now leaked an average of two goals per game in his last six outings and maintained just one clean sheet during this period. And with Wes Brown awaiting test results on a knee injury that could potentially sideline him for the rest of the campaign, things don't look like getting any more comfortable at the back.
On recent form, both sets of fans could be treated to a glut of goals at the weekend, given that United and West Ham have the two worst defensive records in the top flight. The Hammers have experienced goalkeeping woes of their own and have been without number one choice David James for most of the season.
The England international recently returned to back-to-back defeats with Tottenham and Sunderland beating him with a solitary strike apiece. But for the ambitious punters out there, Glenn Roeder's side are rated at 12/1 to become only the second visiting team to keep the United frontrunners at bay and register a 1-0 away win.
However, while United may be under-achieving at the back they are still deadly in attack. The Red Devils remain the Premiership's hotshots ahead of nearest challengers Arsenal and their average goals-per-game ratio is almost twice as emphatic as the Hammers'. Last weekend's dire showing against Chelsea was the first time that United have failed to net in a league game all season and thus can surely be dismissed as a one-off.
If the champions can rekindle their combative form of old then the visitors may struggle to live with the home side's sweeping style, given that the Manchester side are the second-most accurate distributors in the Premiership and West Ham have struggled to achieve the divisional average. In the current climate an away win would not be a massive shock, but such generosity from United may not extend to consecutive weeks.
Match referee: P. Durkin
Once the target of a great deal of derision from the vast majority of Premiership fans, Paul Durkin has blossomed into arguably the finest referee in the English game. He will need his wits about him this weekend, surrounded as he will be by a good 67,000 screaming supporters, but chances are the Portland official will be in command.
Referee's Name FoulsPenaltiesYellow CardsRed CardsAve Disc pointsP. Durkin 266 2 20 0 36.89
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Match Result Man Utd2/5Draw11/4West Ham13/2Correct Score Man Utd 1-07/1Man Utd 2-011/2Man Utd 2-17/1Man Utd 3-08/1Man Utd 3-19/1Man Utd 3-233/1Man Utd 4-016/1Man Utd 4-116/1Man Utd 4-240/1Man Utd 5-033/1Man Utd 5-133/1Man Utd 6-066/1Man Utd 6-166/1Man Utd 7-0100/1Man Utd 7-1100/1Draw 0-011/1Draw 1-113/2Draw 2-218/1Draw 3-366/1West Ham 1-012/1West Ham 2-033/1West Ham 2-125/1West Ham 3-0100/1West Ham 3-1100/1West Ham 3-280/1West Ham 4-0100/1West Ham 4-1100/1West Ham 4-2100/1Double Result Man Utd/Man Utd10/11Man Utd/Draw16/1Man Utd/West Ham50/1Draw/Man Utd7/2Draw/Draw5/1Draw/West Ham14/1West Ham/Man Utd28/1West Ham/Draw16/1West Ham/West Ham14/1First Goalscorer V Nistelrooy7/2A Cole9/2D Yorke5/1A Solskjaer11/2P Scholes8/1D Beckham9/1J Veron10/1Q Fortune16/1R Keane20/1L Chadwick20/1N Butt20/1D Irwin33/1M Silvestre33/1L Blanc33/1R Wallwork40/1J O'shea40/1P Neville50/1G Neville50/1No Goalscorer11/1F Kanoute8/1P Di Canio9/1P Kitson10/1J Defoe10/1S Todorov14/1J Cole16/1D Hutchison16/1T Sinclair20/1M Carrick20/1Courtois25/1S Moncur33/1S Minto40/1S Potts50/1S Schmemel50/1N Winterburn50/1T Repka50/1C Dailly50/1R Soma66/1H Foxe66/1
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