Manchester United v West Ham United - Match Preview

We were hoping that the torrential rain we've had over the past few days might prevent Preview Percy from coming in to deliver his match preview. Unfortunately, he owns a pair of wellies.....

Next up we have a trip "oop north" to Salford for a 5.30pm kick-off against Manchester United in a match being televised by ESPN which I thought used to be a type of cheap cutlery.

Our opponents currently lie in third place in the league on four points having had a comfortable 3-0 win at home against Newcastle followed by a less than comfortable 2-2 draw down at Fulham. Whilst Newcastle put up little resistance, Fulham were well worth their point and the Salford side were slightly fortunate to take a 2-1 lead through an own goal. If they thought they were lucky then, even they couldn't believe their eyes at the penalty they gained when the ball ricocheted at speed off Damien Duff's knee onto his hand. It's not often that Manchester United are embarrassed at the award of a penalty - like Liverpool their supporters start chanting "handball" before kick-off to be on the safe side - but even by their dodgy standards this was a shocker. Rookie 'keeper saved the spot kick and justice was finally done with Hangeland's late equaliser.

Last week our opponents were missing spud-faced nipper Wayne Rooney, who had a tummy bug bless him. This time last year Rooney was being touted by our wonderful press as a world class talent whose goals were going to propel us to World Cup glory. Even the fact that he didn't score between march and the end of the season failed to ring alarm bells amongst the gentlemen of the press. However, he had a poor tournament and failed to score in any of the matches in which he took part - which, frankly, was none of them. He has failed to score so far this season as well - including the Community Shield win over Chelsea. We all know what that means...

Last season saw dissent in the ranks of the club's supporters. The more intelligent of them were unhappy at the level of debt the club was saddled with by virtue of the American owners' leveraged buy-out of the business in 2005. The chosen form of protest is the wearing of green and yellow scarves - that'll tell 'em. The suspicion remains that many of those wearing Norwich City colours haven't a clue why they are doing it but are convinced that it shows that they are proper supporters rather than the know-nothings that form the majority of the tourists that visit Salford on a match day and by the way, which one is Christiano Ronaldo?

Possibly as a result of the club's debt, they have not been particularly active in the transfer window at time of writing. So far only Chris Smalling (in a deal arranged last season) from Fulham, and Javier Hernandez from Guadalajara have arrived. Hernandez wears the no.14 shirt which bears the name "Chicharito" on the back. This is not, as one might expect a tribute to Swedish popsters Abba, but actually means "Little Pea". The 22 year-old Mexican is to be congratulated for bringing awareness of the problem that affects the more elderly of us and, like Pele before him, it is a brave move to admit to having a few "problems downstairs".

Rooney's recovery from the dodgy burger (or ten) means that the only absentees from the home squad will be long term ones. Rio Ferdinand missed the World Cup through a knee injury, something that meant he avoided being blamed for all John Terry's mistakes. The former Hammer is not expected back for another month. A return in one month is something that Owen Hargreaves can only dream about. Having made an uncertain start to his England career the midfielder was unlucky enough to suffer a number of injuries to both knees just as he was beginning to impress. After an eternity on the injury list he finally made a return to action at the end of last season. However yet another knee injury has seen him return to the USA for yet more treatment and he is listed as having "no return date".

Another recent returnee from injury has been Michael Owen who missed the last few months of the season - and the World Cup (had Capello wanted to select him) - following a hamstring tear sustained during last season's League Cup final.

The other former Hammer in the squad will of course be Michael Carrick, though he may need to be content with an evening in the racing car seats - he was an unused sub at Fulham last week. The evergreen Ryan Giggs was also on the "bench" last week though, unlike Carrick, he actually got on. Giggs won the PFA Player of the Year award in 2009 even though 08/09 was arguably not one of his better seasons. The award thus resembled one of those Oscars given to a veteran actor towards the end of a career just in case he isn't around to award one this time next year - see John Wayne and True Grit. Unlike Wayne (John rather than the spud-faced one) Giggs shows no sign of getting on his horse for the last time and the 36 year-old clearly looks after himself. Of course it helped that his international career was rarely troubled by the inconvenience of having to play in friendly matches - between his Welsh debut in 1991 and 2000 Giggs failed to make a single non-competitive appearance for his country - indeed he then missed the next 18 friendlies with various non-existent injuries as his club rode roughshod over the usual rules for international selection.

One wishes that Tomas Hitzlesperger had picked up a similar non-existent injury prior to Germany's recent 2-2 friendly draw against Denmark. That way he might not have picked up the real hamstring problem that has precluded his participation in the league so far this season. The usual injury sources suggest that there is an outside chance of him being available but I reckon that it'll be after the International break before he takes his bow - unless he picks up another real injury playing for Germany. Tal Ben-Haim may take some part in proceedings - especially if Matthew Upson's face hasn't recovered from the boot in the face he got from Kevin Davies - a foul seen but not given by Andre Marriner.

I thought we were unlucky last week - two of the three goals conceded had fouls that might have been given by a semi competent ref - or even a semi-conscious one. Sadly those are few and far between in English football and the Professional Game Match Officials organisation seem more interested in preventing criticism of poor officials than raising standards. However, it has to be said that our finishing left a bit to be desired. This was also true of the League Cup match in midweek - a point-blank header from Piquionne in the first half springs to mind. Unlike Bolton and Oxford our opponents this week are not noted for the number of chances they give so it'll be important that we do take any that come our way. However, playing at Old Trafford the likelihood of our getting a penalty is remote in the extreme - I think the last ref to upset Fergie in such a manner is currently in a strange Village wearing a blazer with a No.6 badge on it whilst he undergoes "re-education" - so we probably needn't worry too much about Carlton Cole grabbing the ball for a spot-kick any more.

One problem in that respect may be the way we line up. I wouldn't be too surprised to see us go with five in midfield leaving Cole alone up front. I'm not particularly enamoured of this system - Carlton doesn't seem too adept at holding up the play and when we play that system the midfield tend to play too deep to give him much support. Frankly I'd rather go down all guns blazing - though I suppose I'd be the first to complain if our goal difference ends up costing us.

Prediction? Well much as I'd like to say that we could sneak a point up there, our finishing suggests that unless we actually put away the one chance we get (and it's not called offside erroneously) this will be unlikely. I can, unfortunately see this one going the same way as the first match of the season did at Old Trafford - a scoreline that would see us going into the break on the back of a 3-0 defeat. Hope I'm wrong!

Enjoy the game!

Last Season: Lost 0-3 - a bright start saw us miss chances before we rolled over and died. Two from Spud-face and one from Michael Owen did the damage.

Danger Man: Wayne Rooney - the last time he scored DFS didn't have a sale on. That can only mean one thing. Owen also always scores when he plays against us.

Referee: Mark Clattenburg - Once sacked by the aforementioned PGMO organisation for having bad debts. His performances last season - particularly in our away match at Hull - suggest that PGMO should have considered other criteria when compiling their report.

Travel news: If you're going up by train and coming back on Sunday engineering works near Rugby are going to make a long journey home even longer.

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