Manchester United v West Ham, Sunday 4.00pm, BT Sport 1
Make no mistake about it, Slaven Bilic’s sole aim this season is to win the FA Cup. The Croatian manager said at the start of the year how winning the FA Cup would be better than a top four spot, despite West Ham sitting just a point off the Champions League places.
‘Win the Cup and I can hold it up,’ said the West Ham gaffer in January. ‘Get in the Champions League and I have to buy a magazine to show them the League table and shout, ‘Look where we are!’ There is proof if you have silverware. So I’d prefer to win the FA Cup… and finish fifth.’
While punter’s can be forgiven for being a little bit reluctant to get stuck into the FA Cup before seeing any team news, the vibes are overwhelmingly strong that West Ham are up for the cup. Whether Manchester United are in the same frame of mind is a different story…
Louis van Gaal’s Red Army find the FA Cup quarter-final sandwiched in between two crunch Europa League ties with arch-rivals Liverpool, and the Dutch manager isn’t oblivious to the fact that a Europa League win may be Manchester United’s only way into next year’s Champions League.
The Red Devils are three points behind neighbours Manchester City who also have a game in hand against Newcastle to be played.
Priorities are fairly clear. As is recent form.
While Manchester United managed just one shot on target against West Brom on Sunday – an attempt by Anthony Martial from more than 20 yards out after two minutes – West Ham showed all kinds of ‘tremendous character’ to come from 2-0 down against Everton to win 3-2 at Goodison Park.
Big Slav has instilled plenty of backbone into this West Ham side left behind by Big Sam Allardyce. Only Arsenal, Southampton, Man Utd and Man City have kept more clean sheets this season, while only Leicester and Tottenham have taken more points per game after conceding the opening goal.
Then there’s the beauty of Dimitri Payet. Eight goals and seven assists in the league this season mean that he’s contributed to a third of West Ham’s goals this season, and he dazzled again in the comeback against Everton. Payet’s now been involved in more goals than David Silva, Dele Alli and Kevin De Bruyne this year.
Against Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool this season, West Ham’s record reads won five, drawn two, lost none. Even considering the weakness of the expected top sides this season, that record isn’t too shabby.
The Hammers are outsiders to pick up the win at Old Trafford, but that looks a massive price all things considered. Alternatively for the more conservative punter, West Ham draw no bet is a shot which also looks worth considering. If Louis van Gaal does prioritise the Europa League, as expected, and West Ham are tickling your fancy at , then the Hammers to win by exactly one goal at could be the cherry on top. Six of Manchester United’s eight league defeats this season have been by the slimmest of margins, and West Ham can add another one to that tally as the Hammers head to Wembley.