As a truly historic era draws to a close for West Ham fans this evening, as a club they seem to be prepping for whole new chapter of success in the Olympic Stadium.
When West Ham parted ways with Sam ‘Big Sam’ Allardyce in the summer (he really does sound like a formidable heavyweight boxer), I couldn’t help but think that it might be a roll of the dice too far by David Sullivan and David Gold. After all, West Ham haven’t exactly been stalwarts of the Premier League in recent memory and it would have been very hard filling 60,000 with Burton Albion as the away side in the Championship (Sorry Burton fans). OH HOW I WAS WRONG.
Like any good manager, Slaven Bilić didn’t change a system that worked. With Big Sam as a predecessor, Bilić inherited a team that had such strong foundations that you could have built the new stadium on James Collins and Winston Reid’s shoulders. What Bilić has done though with great effect is bring a little bit of sparkle, a little bit of magic into the final third that has transformed West Ham into a worthy Top 8 club.
In Manuel Lanzini and, of course, the wonderful Dimitri Payet, West Ham have genuine craft and skill in attack. Whether that may be on the break, from set pieces or in tactful build up play, West Ham are once more the footballing side that their fans so craved last season. And now, on the eve of the great farewell to the Boleyn, West Ham host Manchester United.
Whilst success may have been lacking in recent seasons, it seems more than fitting that the final game West Ham will play at home in the Premier League is against the most successful team of the Premier League era. It is a shame however that game is a potential Champions League decider but the Hammer’s defeat to Swansea at the weekend poured cold water on those ambitions for at least another season.
Manchester United however have the bit between their teeth and somehow find themselves two points behind City with this, their game in hand, still to play.
After all the issues faced by Louis van Gaal this year, it is all the more remarkable to think that Manchester United may well be rubbing shoulders with Europe’s elite next season and with a possible FA Cup triumph in the bag as well, the season is turning out to be a lot rosier than at times feared.
Any discussion of van Gaal’s future has somewhat dropped off the radar in recent weeks, with mutterings still being heard of Mourinho’s insistence of answers and guarantees that he has the United job, you can’t help but feel a little sorry for van Gaal.
Never my favourite club, Manchester United under the guidance of Sir Alex Ferguson were a team you could at least admire a carefree, attacking nonchalance about their play. Whilst van Gaal’s Manchester United may see players reduced to mere passing stats and possession, van Gaal is a manager with a stellar CV and considering the injuries the Dutchman has faced this season it is a credit to him that he has somehow turned this season around into something much more successful than it appeared at Christmas.
With regards to team news, I would expect limited changes for West Ham in this game, with Bilić potentially deciding that some stern words and some tough love for the XI that faced Swansea may prove more beneficial than wholesale change.
Antony Martial pulling up for Manchester United in the warm up against Norwich was a big loss at the weekend. Whilst the transfer fee commanded by the youngster was huge, it will be comforting for United fans to see his potential more than matching the amount paid to Monaco.
This is a massive game for Manchester United and potentially a defining one for Louis van Gaal. If, and this could be a big if, van Gaal has any chance of keeping his job beyond the FA Cup final, he needs all three points here. I just can’t help but feel West Ham might put on one last show for the fans at Upton Park.
West Ham: Randolph, Antonio, Reid, Tomkins, Cresswell, Kouyaté, Noble, Valencia, Lanzini, Payet, Carroll
Manchester United: de Gea, Valencia, Smalling, Blind, Fosu-Mensah, Carrick, Herrera, Lingard, Rooney, Mata, Rashford
Match Result: West Ham 2-1 Manchester United
Rich, The Sweeper Football Blog