West Ham United striking legend Tony Cottee casts a tactical eye over this afternoon’s classic Premier League fixture with Manchester United...
Our recent form and run of results mean that West Ham perhaps won’t be the underdogs that we have been in the past when facing Manchester United this afternoon.
Overall, in the circumstances, it was a point gained and a decent away performance at Aston Villa on Monday night. The only thing lacking was a cutting edge to nick a goal on the break but, having gone down to ten men with nearly a third of the game still to go, it was a positive outcome.
We defended very well – even after Arthur Masuaku had been harshly sent off – and still looked dangerous going forward. I noticed a few people comment afterwards that it was the type of game we probably would have lost last season, and that shows the progress that has been made thanks to the stability and confidence that is beginning to establish itself around the squad.
It’s now five games unbeaten, two clean sheets in a row, and so everyone goes into this afternoon’s match in confident mood. Eight points from 12 – having faced Manchester City on the opening day – is an excellent return and sets things up perfectly for today’s game.
It’s a fixture that nobody needs extra motivation for. Historically, we have seen some classic encounters between the two sides, and we know for sure that the atmosphere at kick-off this afternoon will be absolutely on fire.
In fact, our biggest challenge today is really guarding against complacency or falling into the trap of believing that United might be easier to beat than in previous years. They lost fairly comprehensively here this time last season, and that will be in their minds as they get ready in the dressing room before kick-off.
It is important that we prepare for a better performance from them this time around, and approach the game with the right desire and mentality from the word go. It is a mistake to write United off as a weakened outfit in transition – they still have a group of very talented, international players who are under immense pressure to perform at the very highest level.
It’s not as if United are in the bottom half of the table or struggling to find a win – they dug out a resilient win last week against a Leicester team who many people are tipping for big things – and they will come here believing they can take another three points. It is vital that we force our own authority on the game early on to ensure we give ourselves the platform to perform.
I have a feeling that our left side and United’s right could have a key impact on the outcome of today’s game. With Arthur Masuaku suspended, Aaron Cresswell is likely to come in at left-back and he will certainly have a tough battle on his hands up, whether he comes against Daniel James, Andreas Pereira, Marcus Rashford or Anthony Martial.
I saw a lot of James during his time with Swansea, and from day one I was so impressed with him. He is a bit of a throw-back – much more a traditional type of winger who likes to hug the touchline, dribble with the ball and beat his man – but he also has electric pace, good finishing ability and the knack of being in the right place at the right time.
Aaron has obviously been out of the team in the last few games, but he is an experienced, top professional who will have trained properly every day and made sure that he is fully ready to be recalled to the team. His concentration levels will need to be extremely high for 90 minutes in order to deal with the threat Manchester United pose.
Felipe Anderson will also have a role to play in that sense. If he is ahead of Aaron on the left, he will have to offer good support with his work-rate and possibly double up at times, while still making sure he provides an attacking outlet for his defensive team-mates.
It will be interesting to see how United line up – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer does like to mix it up with his attacking players, and they are coming into the game on the back of a Europa League tie less than 72 hours ago, but I do believe that Daniel James will be a threat we have to deal with in order to come out on top.