Upton Park hosts Man United in what is probably the pick of the FA Cup Third Round ties.
Having established a seven-point lead in the Premier League over the festive period, Manchester United turn their thoughts to the FA Cup on Saturday when they visit West Ham United in the third round.
Cup-winners a record 11 times, United have not lifted English football’s oldest trophy since 2004 and have seen Chelsea dominate the competition in recent years, winning four of the last six tournaments.
West Ham eliminated United from the FA Cup with a stunning fourth-round win at Old Trafford in 2001, and the Hammers could have a survivor from that game on the pitch if Joe Cole’s proposed move from Liverpool is completed in time.
United also went out in the fourth round last season, losing 2-1 at Liverpool.
Manager Alex Ferguson has promised to rotate his squad as he seeks to keep his players fresh for the challenges ahead.
“We’ll make a few changes for the cup tie,” he said after Tuesday’s 4-0 win at Wigan Athletic.
“We’ve got fresh players, though. Young Shinji Kagawa came on against Wigan and Tom Cleverley is fresh as he’s not had a lot of football.”
United’s match at West Ham is one of four all-Premier League ties, alongside West Bromwich Albion’s trip to Queens Park Rangers, Arsenal’s game at Swansea City, and holders Chelsea’s match at Southampton.
Chelsea were stunned 1-0 by bottom club QPR in the Premier League on Wednesday and interim coach Rafael Benitez has admitted that his players are feeling the effects of the gruelling Christmas season.
“I thought they were doing well and I thought that would be fine, but maybe in odd areas we were tired,” he said.
“You could see we didn’t have the intensity and the pace on the pass and the movement that we were expecting.”
Southampton, meanwhile, have shown signs of improvement in recent weeks after a difficult start to the season and avoided defeat for the third successive game by holding Arsenal to a 1-1 draw on New Year’s Day.
Manchester City, United’s nearest rivals in the league, host second-tier Watford, with the FA Cup one of only two trophies they can now win after elimination from the League Cup and the Champions League.
Mario Balotelli was in line to replace the injured Sergio Aguero at the tip of City’s attack, but he may have jeopardised his chances of playing after being pictured in a furious training-ground row with manager Roberto Mancini.
With many of the competition’s big names drawn against fellow top-flight sides, the chances of a major upset have been reduced, but seventh-tier Hastings United will hope to pull off a shock at Championship side Middlesbrough.
Romantics will also hope to see Mansfield Town earn a place in cup history when the team from the fifth-tier Conference National host last season’s beaten finalists Liverpool on Sunday.
“I have never been to the third round of the cup and not many players get the opportunity to play against Liverpool, so this is extra-special,” goalkeeper Alan Marriott told local newspaper the Mansfield Chad.
“We can go out and enjoy it without any pressure and the club should make some money out of it.”
West Ham captain Kevin Nolan and defender James Collins will return after completing their suspensions.
Defender Joey O’Brien (hamstring) is a doubt and striker Andy Carroll (knee) and midfielder Mohamed Diame (hamstring) are still unavailable.
Manchester United will welcome back defenders Phil Jones and Nemanja Vidic for the trip.
Wayne Rooney (knee) has been ruled out while Nani (hamstring) is still missing despite returning to training.
Demel, Collins, Reid, O’Brien
Vaz Te, Nolan, Jarvis
Rafael, Smalling, Vidic, Buttner
Welbeck, Kagawa, Young
Head to head
• Manchester United have won 57, drawn 24 and lost 42 of their 123 competitive matches against West Ham.
• The Red Devils have won eight of the last nine, including a 1-0 triumph at Old Trafford in the Premier League in November when Robin van Persie’s first-minute goal was the difference between the sides. The exception was the Hammers’ 4-0 victory, in the fifth round of the Carling Cup in November 2010, when there were doubles for Jonathan Spector and Carlton Cole.
• The east Londoners hold a 4-3 winning record over United in the FA Cup. Their most notable triumph was 3-1 at Hillsborough in the 1964 semi-finals, on their way to winning the trophy. The third of United’s victories was 6-0 in the
fourth round in 2003 at Old Trafford; Ryan Giggs scored twice.
West Ham United
• The 1964, 1975 and 1980 winners, who last made an unsuccessful appearance in the final in 2006, have failed to make progress in three of the last five seasons.
• They have also been beaten in each of the last six occasions they have been drawn against Premier League clubs in the FA Cup, and have not disqualified one since Middlesbrough in the 2006 semi-finals.
• This is one of four all-Premier League ties, and the pick of the third round.
• Treble-chasing Manchester United boast the best record in the FA Cup, with 18 appearances in the final, 11 of which were won – five under Sir Alex Ferguson.
• This is the fifth successive time they have been drawn against fellow Premier-League opposition in the competition, and the 20th in 25 rounds. When Fergie’s men last qualified for the final in May 2007, they faced fellow top-fight opposition in all six rounds.
• If the Red Devils do not concede, it will be their 150th clean sheet in the FA Cup.
SOURCE: BBC Sport
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