Manchester United take on West Ham on Wednesday night with Champions League qualification still to play for but Steve Rawlings is backing the freewheeling Hammers to cause a shock...
"With Solskjaer insistent that the jittery de Gea will keep his place in the team, I’m more than happy to lay the home side at long odds-on."
Manchester United v West Ham
Wednesday July 22, 18:00
Live on Sky Sports
Are United poised for a Top 4 Finish?
Given their current form, Manchester United's 3-1 defeat to Chelsea in the F.A Cup semi-final on Sunday evening, thanks largely to a couple of David de Gea goalkeeping howlers, came as something of a shock.
It was their first loss in 20 games in all competitions and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men haven't been beaten in the Premier League since Burnley left Old Trafford with all three points back in January. In the 12 league games since, United have won eight and drawn four. Prior to Sunday's mishap, the Red Devils had been red-hot.
It wasn't all bad news for United on Sunday though, Leicester's 3-0 defeat at Spurs means qualification for the Champions League is very much back in their own hands and they're now only [1.16] for a Top 4 Finish.
Victory on Wednesday against West Ham will put them firmly in the driving seat ahead of their trip to Leicester on Sunday and they can even nudge past the Foxes with a pair of draws. United and Leicester are currently tied on 62 points but Leicester have played 37 of their of 38 games already.
Solskjaer's going to have his work cut out to lift his team after Sunday's disappointment but, following their recent run, they shouldn't lack for confidence or incentive. Sunday's defeat was a big bump in the road but you can look at any current Premier League Form table, from six to 12 matches, and the Red Devils are atop of them all. They've scored at least twice in each of their last six Premier League games and they've been winning at both half time and full time in five of their last six.
Is United's form as strong as it looks?
Sunday aside, they've been in terrific form and having the prospect of Champions League football now within touching distance, they certainly won't lack motivation. That's a big prize up for grabs though, as was a place in the F.A Cup final, and nerves could yet play a part. One could also make the argument that since the restart, their Premier League opposition hasn't been the stiffest.
In their first two Premier League games back United drew 1-1 with Spurs and they beat Sheffield United 3-0. Both those two sides have improved after slow starts and that forms solid enough but the four teams they've beaten since - Brighton, Bournemouth, Aston Villa and Crystal Palace - have been largely very poor.
One could easily argue that the only in-form side they've played of late is Southampton and they left Old Trafford with a point following a 2-2 draw last week.
Freewheeling Hammers could be dangerous
Having been matched at just [1.8] to be relegated and having lost their first two games back after the restart, West Ham looked in big trouble at the end of June but Mark Noble and co have turned it around nicely in July.
A 3-2 home win against Chelsea was the catalyst for their recovery and they've now won ten of the last 15 points available. A 1-0 home defeat to in-form Burnley followed a 2-2 draw at Newcastle but after a convincing 4-0 away win at already-relegated Norwich and a very comfortable 3-1 victory against fellow strugglers Watford the Hammers are all but safe. The east Londoners head to Old Trafford in search of their third win in-a-row for the first time this season.
With Watford away to Manchester City and Aston Villa hosting Arsenal on Tuesday night, and with either team needing to win handsomely to keep the Hammers in any sort of jeopardy, it's very long odds-on that West Ham will be safe and sound by the time they kick off on Wednesday and that can only help their cause.
West Ham haven't won at Old Trafford since May 2007, losing nine and drawing two of their last 11 there, but having beaten United 2-0 at home back in September, they're looking to do the double over them for the first time since the 2006/07 season.
United too short with so much at stake
With Champions League qualification up for grabs, there's plenty on the line for United, whereas West Ham, baring an extremely bizarre run of results, have absolutely nothing to play for.
The Hammers are looking to win their final Premier League away game of the season for the fourth season in succession and with all the pressure on United, it's certainly not beyond the realms of possibility.
With Solskjaer insistent that the jittery de Gea will keep his place in the team, I'm more than happy to lay the home side at long odds-on and given United lost their final home game last season, 2-0 to already relegated Cardiff, I've also had a tiny bet on West Ham at a juicy price.
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Staked: 72 pts
Returned: 87.14 pts
P/L: +15.14 pts
Lay Manchester United for 2pts @ [1.28]
½ pt West Ham @ [13.5]