The second half of our 2016-17 Premier League campaign begins with the visit of Manchester United. Nobody who was there will ever forget their last visit on that warm May evening eight months ago, when we came from behind to record that famous 3-2 victory in our final game at Upton Park. We will be hoping to achieve a similar points haul against United to that attained last season, when we drew at Old Trafford before beating them at home.
When you consider that they are the most successful club in the history of English football, with 20 league titles and 11 FA Cups, we have a good record against them in competitive matches on our own ground. In over 60 meetings we have won 26 to their 15, although in the 21st century we have only beaten them three times in the league at Upton Park. In addition to last season’s win, we beat them in two consecutive seasons; 2006-07, when a Reo-Coker goal was the only goal of the game, and the following year when Anton Ferdinand and Upson were our scorers in a 2-1 victory. In that game we were trailing to an early Ronaldo goal when United were awarded a penalty midway through the second half. However Ronaldo pulled the penalty kick wide of the post, and our two central defenders each scored with late headers in a memorable finale to the game. Of course it was a similar tale last season when two late headers won the game for us.
United go into this game in sixth place in the table, although I guess their fans would have expected them to be closer to the top and challenging for the title, especially with the appointment of Mourinho this season. They have had a good run of results recently, and remain unbeaten since a heavy defeat at Stamford Bridge in October. This included a 1-1 draw against us, when Sakho’s early goal was cancelled out by Ibrahimovic. Mkhitaryan scored a spectacular goal for them in a recent victory over Sunderland, although this was well offside. I fail to understand how a trained assistant referee failed to spot this, or was it just another of those occasions when a “big club” get fortunate with decisions in their favour, especially when playing at home?
Our 1-0 defeat at Leicester on Saturday meant that we reached the mid-point of the season with 22 points from our nineteen games, which is 7 fewer than last time, but more than we might have expected just one month ago. We rose a place to twelfth position thanks to Tottenham beating Watford 4-1 on Sunday, meaning that our goal difference is now better than that of the Hornets. Mark Noble picked up an injury at Leicester and I believe is likely to be missing for this game. This might be a blessing in disguise for us enabling Pedro Obiang to return in the defensive midfield role.
Geoff reviewed the game at Leicester admirably. I have only seen highlights but from what I saw we were unlucky to not get a point, but we seemed to start slowly once again. We must really get out of this bad habit of starting lethargically, and be up for a fast start to the game, especially against United. We need to be at them from the start in a similar way to how they started against us in the EFL cup game. The bookies don’t fancy us at all and I’ve seen odds of up to 5/1 for us to win the game. I’ll have some of that and will be looking for a win by the odd goal, perhaps 2-1 or 3-2. What are the chances?