West Ham v Manchester United, Tuesday, 7.45pm
It’s win or bust for Manchester United on Tuesday night in one the toughest games I’ve had to call all season.
There was supposed to be a party atmosphere at the Boleyn Ground as West Ham swap their traditional home for the spanking new Olympic Stadium next season. But this fixture has taken on a much-greater significance now.
Manchester City’s failure to beat Arsenal on Sunday (drew 2-2) means the Citizens’ bitter rivals will now qualify for the Champions League if they take six points from their last two games.
What looked to be a run-of-the-mill fixture for the Red Devils a few weeks ago, has suddenly become their biggest Premier League game of the season.
Louis van Gaal’s side may still have the FA Cup final against Crystal Palace at Wembley on Saturday week, but Tuesday night’s game now has a Cup final feel about it.
If United don’t get three points against the Hammers I don’t think they’ll qualify for the Champions League. It’s that simple.
But I think they will take advantage of this second bite at the Champions League cherry.
If I was a Manchester United player I’d be saying ‘bring it on.’ The Boleyn Ground will be jumping, the atmosphere will be electric and the visitors have a few players to bring in to freshen up the team.
Daley Blind and Marcus Rashford in particular should return to the starting 11 after being rested against Norwich and that will give United some much-needed energy and flair up front.
We’ll have to wait to see if Anthony Martial’s hamstring injury is as bad as first thought and it would be a big blow to United if the French starlet was missing as he’s their top scorer this season.
Hammers’ boss Slaven Bilic has had a fantastic first season in charge of West Ham and they won’t want to leave their traditional home on a sour note.
They’ll look to score from Dimitri Payet – who won five awards from the club this season – and has tormented defences all season and Andy Carroll will be a handful up front for the United back four.
There’s a massive prize at stake for United though and I’m going to take them to shade it 2-1 at keep their Champions League dream alive.