West Ham host Manchester United on Sunday looking to maintain their impressive home record and keep the pressure on the teams above them as their European hopes hang by a thread.
Despite the Hammers venturing into the Champions League places for a good few weeks of the campaign they have since dropped down to eighth with the chasing pack having come in to form.
However, the east London outfit are undefeated in nine of their last 10 top-flight matches at the Boleyn Ground and have deservingly beaten last season’s top two – Manchester City and Liverpool – on their own patch.
The Irons could put Louis van Gaal’s men to the sword at the weekend, United have won just three away games all season however they’re showing signs of becoming a team to be feared once again.
Sam Allardyce’s injury list has grown considerably over the last couple of weeks with Cheikhou Kouyate, Winston Reid, James Collins, Andy Carroll, Carl Jenkinson and James Tomkins all likely to miss out against United, though the latter two are in with a slim chance of making the squad.
This defensive crisis could force Big Sam to experiment with his side and academy star Reece Oxford, 16, may once again be included in the squad and perhaps even play, although Joey O’Brien and Guy Demel are likely to start in a weakened back-four.
Carroll’s injury should mean the exciting pairing of Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia will lead the line once again having thrilled the home faithful with their early-season performances as a duo.
The Red Devils only injury concern is Michael Carrick but in his absence Daley Blind has excelled in the defensive midfield role. Radamel Falcao and Robin van Persie are expected to lead the line with Wayne Rooney in behind, which will be a massive test for the Hammers’ injury ravaged defence.
Key Battle: Downing v Blind
One man that will be key to West Ham getting anything out of this match is Stewart Downing and Allardyce must field him in a central role if they’re to see the best of him.
Downing has completed 54 key passes this season, only Marseille’s Dimitri Payet (72) and Chelsea’s Eden Hazard (55) have more in Europe's top five leagues.
The 30-year-old, who has jokingly compared himself with Ryan Giggs, can be a thorn in Manchester United and it will be down to Blind to stop the Englishman.
Blind has come into form of late but as he showed in their midweek FA Cup win over Cambridge he’s still prone to mistakes – his misplaced pass turned into a cutting through ball for the League Two minnow’s striker to latch on to for a one-on-one with David de Gea inside the first minute, luckily for the Dutchman it wasn’t punished.
The Hammers’ star man is more than capable of getting the better of Blind on Sunday, however that may not be enough for them considering the attacking prowess United boast and the personnel West Ham are without.
West Ham: Predicted XI
Adrian, O’Brien, Tomkins, Demel, Cresswell; Noble, Song, Nolan, Downing; Sakho, Valencia.
West Ham 1-2 Manchester United
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