Manchester United (+144) at West Ham United (+200), Draw (+250)
Despite having a difficult season, Manchester United (18-9-9, 63 pts) can still claim a spot in next year’s Champions League with two wins in their last two Premier League fixtures. Their first challenge will be against West Ham United (15-14-7, 59 pts) this Tuesday at Upton Park in London (2:45 PM Eastern).
Manchester City recorded at home last weekend against Arsenal (2-2), opening the door for United – who beat Norwich (1-0 away) – to leapfrog them for fourth in the table. City still own the fourth spot with 65 points after 37 games, but United are only two points back and have a game in hand.
After facing the Hammers, United will host Bournemouth to close the year. Man City visit Swansea in their final EPL match.
Bournemouth and Swansea are both bottom-half-of-the-table teams and it looks like the battle for fourth will hinge on the result of Tuesday’s game. Unfortunately for United, striker Anthony Martial is doubtful. The young Frenchman “felt something” while warming up against Norwich and didn’t play at Carrow Road.
“I’m a manager who is not taking risks,” said United’s Louis Van Gaal to MUTV post-game. “Especially not in his situation and I said this to Anthony because he has played most of all the matches. He’s 20 years old. I have to take care of him.”
On the other hand, striker Marcus Rashford and full-back Daley Blind will be back in the lineup. Van Gaal elected to rest both last weekend.
West Ham have plenty to fight for, as well. They are a point back of Southampton for sixth in the standings (with a game in hand), and one point up on eighth-place Liverpool. A top-six finish would earn the squad a spot in next season’s Europa League.
The Hammers still had an outside shot at a top-four finish, but those chances were dashed last weekend during an embarrassing 4-1 home loss to Swansea. It was just their third loss at home all season.
Manchester United and West Ham are relatively even teams, a fact that was showcased in their 0-0 draw at Old Trafford earlier this year (the third draw in the last four head-to-head). I expect United’s defensive prowess (31 goals-against in 36 matches) to neutralize West Ham’s prolific attack (61 goals-for in 36 matches), but scoring will continue to be a problem for the Red Devils.
Pick: Draw (+250).
(Photo Credit: Matt Janzer (MUFC v CA – Seattle, WA – July 17, 2015) CC BY-SA 2.0 [http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.)