Tuesday 15 March 2016

Huge week for Reds and Everton await if we get past Hammers

Louis van Gaal's assertion that United are "still in three competitions" may have been an admirable sign of defiance but realistically looks wide of the mark. 

Ahead of a huge week in which we face Liverpool on Thursday and then travel to City on Sunday, he may technically be correct but it's difficult to make a case for the Reds' progress in any of the three tournaments he referred to.

The in-form Merseysiders arrive at Old Trafford with a 2-0 first leg advantage, we face a difficult FA Cup replay at Upton Park (for which West Ham are favourites) and- perish the thought- City can all but put us out of the race for the top four with derby victory on Sunday.

United rescued a Champions League tie against Olympiakos under David Moyes from a similar position and our history is littered with such turnarounds, but given our attacking shortcomings this season can anyone really back us to turn this one around? 

Jurgen Klopp's style of play presses teams into submission and- whilst it's difficult to envisage United scoring three times (we've only managed that four times all season at home)- it's also a stretch of the imagination to see Liverpool not scoring the one goal they need to surely put the tie to bed.

Bastian Schweinsteiger's introduction against West Ham was pivotal as United staged a late rally, and the German must surely start on Thursday- we need an early goal and his ability to set the tempo and spread the play will be key.

Sunday's derby at the Etihad is arguably the most insignificant in years- in terms of the title at least- but both sides indifferent form also makes it the most unpredictable. 

Stuttering City have won only three of their last nine in all competitions- a run that included three straight losses- and the pre-season title favourites are 12 points behind leaders Leicester.

Victory for them would effectively end our hopes of a top four finish but a win for us would put us back to within a point and leave Manuel Pellegrini's side looking nervously over their shoulders.

The winners of United's FA Cup replay with West Ham will face Everton in the semi-finals at Wembley with Watford and Palace facing off in the other last four tie.

Should we prevail at Upton Park, the two sides will meet in the competition for the first time since David Moyes' Everton knocked a youthful United side out (on penalties) at the same stage in 2009. 

West Ham and United are the two highest ranked sides left so whoever wins the Upton Park replay will be favourites to go on and win the most wide open FA Cup competition in years. 

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