Manchester United wary of pumped-up Hammers

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal.
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Manchester United have the incentive of a Champions League place in their sights as they prepare for an emotionally-charged Premier League contest at West Ham United on Tuesday.

Manchester City's 2-2 draw with Arsenal on Sunday means that United can pip their cross-town rivals to a top-four spot if they beat the Hammers and then prevail at home to Bournemouth on Sunday.

An FA Cup final date against Crystal Palace follows, suddenly making United manager Louis van Gaal's horizon a great deal sunnier. However, with West Ham playing their last game at their Boleyn Ground home ground, the Red Devils expect to face highly-motivated opponents.

Said van Gaal: "It's still very tough. We've seen already in the quarter-final of the FA Cup (when United beat West Ham 2-1) that it's not so easy.

"West Ham are a very good team; it's not for nothing they're in the top half of the table. We were lucky in the Cup that West Ham had a goal disallowed in the last minute."

Marcus Rashford was United's inspiration on their last trip to the Boleyn Ground in April, opening the scoring with a fine individual effort.

He and defender Daley Blind are expected to return to the starting XI after being rested for Saturday's 1-0 win at Norwich, while forward Anthony Martial and full-back Matteo Darmian are injury doubts.

Although West Ham slipped out of the qualifying spots for next season's Europa League after their first home league defeat since August on Saturday, they could still enter the competition if Man City finish in the top four and Man United win the FA Cup.

Win, lose or draw, tonight's match is certain to be an occasion soaked with nostalgia as West Ham bid farewell to the 35,016-seat Boleyn Ground, which has been the club's home since 1904.

An imminent move to the 60,000-capacity Olympic Stadium awaits the club, but for fans, local residents, staff and players, leaving the club's beloved home will be an almighty wrench.

Said captain Mark Noble, whose West Ham career began in July 2003: "We're itching to get back out there and put things right, of course we are. It's the last game at this place and it's going to be special."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WEST HAM V MANCHESTER UNITED

Singtel TV Ch102 & StarHub Ch227, Wednesday, 2.45am

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 10, 2016, with the headline 'Man Utd wary of pumped-up Hammers'. Print Edition | Subscribe