The Premier League season continues to fizzle out prior to what should have been its ultimate finale on Sunday requiring the assorted media and commentators to dig deep into the hyperbole to find a story of any significant interest. With the title having been wrapped up months ago and the relegation places all but settled ( a hearty pat on the back to Huddersfield) there is only the jostling for positions in the top four still up for grabs – about as compelling as the third place play-off match at a World Cup. It no longer really matters where you finish in the top four for the purposes of the Champion’s League money-go-round and so the only matter of consequence that remains unresolved is the unlikely prospect of Chelsea pipping Liverpool for the final qualification spot – unless, that is, Swansea can put ten past Stoke.
Football seasons are becoming increasingly like fireworks displays for me. Despite all the lessons of history I still get excited by the prospect of a new one starting and yet all too quickly it becomes routinely predictable. Unless you are a small child you have seen it all before and you can’t help but look at your watch hoping that it will all be over as soon as possible; and without any accidents. For all the whizz, bangs and whistles the underlying product has become less interesting and more cynical each year. Still if there is to be one final big bang it might as well be against Manchester United rather than the actual scheduled climax against Fat Sam’s Everton side which has all the appeal of a damp sparkler.
The visitors need one more point from either tonight’s game or at home to Watford on Sunday to claim second spot despite having been lapped some time ago by their City neighbours. They also have the FA Cup Final to look forward to and thus it is difficult to gauge their level of commitment and motivation for this one, particularly after their defeat at Brighton last weekend.
Should the extraordinary happen and West Ham win their final two games, the record books will show a comfortable mid-table finish for the Hammers which, as we know, is a long way from what actually happened. Now that our heroes have secured survival we can only speculate as to whether the reaction will be a performance lacking in fear or one lacking in effort. Generally, the team makes an attempt to turn up against the Red Devils which can only be a good thing.
Head to Head
Two years ago today West Ham came from behind to beat Manchester United 3-2 in the very last competitive game at Upton Park. Two short years but it could well have been a lifetime ago such has the mood changed around the club. The Hammers have won three and lost five of the last twelve home games against the Manchester Reds, including last year’s defeat inspired by a piece of Phil Jones cheating to get Sofiane Feghouli sent off by hapless referee Mike Dean. Which reminds me what happened to that new rule about retrospective red cards for players who deceive a referee? Seems it was abandoned after Manuel Lanzini (and a Stoke player?) were banned – either that or there has been no cheating going on ever since!
Without a doubt David Moyes will name the same team that won at Leicester and will probably also make exactly the same substitutions at roughly the same stage of the game. It seems that, thankfully, Marko Arnautovic has recovered from his injury which means there is at least some hope of making a game of it.
Manchester United are without Lukaku (we do not have to go into the game already a goal down) and also ‘elbows’ Fellaini, who might otherwise be trying out the home dressing room for size. On the other hand Sanchez (who also likes to score against the Hammers) could make a return having missed the game at Brighton.
The really good news coming out of Manchester United is that Sir Alex Ferguson appears to be on the road to recovery. If only their current manager were half as talented or half as good as he thinks he is.
The Man In The Middle
Jonathan Moss from West Yorkshire takes charge of his fourth West Ham fixture of the season in which the Hammers are incredibly unbeaten. These were a home draw with Arsenal, an away win at Huddersfield and the home win over Southampton. In 33 games this season he has shown 118 yellow cards and 4 red ones.
Merson is back on the case predicting a 2-1 away win while Lawro goes for safety and a 1-1 draw. Whether the natural desire to want to beat Manchester United overcomes the normal end of season, nothing to play for stupor will be key for this game. If Moyes can put up a rocket up the players, in support of his own personal vendetta against one of his old clubs, then I back West Ham for a surprise 3-1 win.