Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson plans to rest a number of key players for today’s FA Cup replay with West Ham United as the English giants eye a treble success.
Seven points clear at the top of the Premier League and with an eagerly-awaited last 16 Champions League encounter with Real Madrid on the horizon, United will book a fourth round home tie with Fulham or Blackpool if they overcome the Hammers at Old Trafford.
Although Ferguson is unlikely to admit it, West Ham’s visit is a game United could do without.
Not only is it his team’s 32nd game of the campaign, it is United’s sixth match in little more than three weeks. The schedule does not get any easier for the foreseeable future. Should they overcome West Ham, United face five league and cup games before they travel to Spain to take on Real Madrid on Feb. 13.
“I shall continue to juggle my squad because although December was a busy month, there is still no let-up,” Ferguson said. “The replay with West Ham is quickly followed by an away trip to Spurs. Then we will hopefully have a fourth round tie against Fulham or Blackpool to give us another two-game week before another busy week of fixtures against Southampton and Fulham.”
Ferguson will be mindful that resting too many players for this week’s replay could lead to trouble.
Midfielder Michael Carrick, defender Patrice Evra and winger Ashley Young were all absent for the original tie which ended 2-2 at Upton Park.
United came within minutes of exiting the FA Cup before Robin van Persie, who had started on the substitutes bench, forced a replay.
Van Persie, who has scored 17 goals in 22 league games since signing from Arsenal in August, is set to be rested as Wayne Rooney looks to make his comeback after missing the last five games with a knee ligament injury.
Javier Hernandez could also make an appearance after the Mexico international did not feature in the 2-1 win over Liverpool on Sunday, United’s ninth win in 10 league games.
West Ham manager Sam Allardyce made no attempt to disguise his anger at his side’s performance after their 3-0 defeat at Sunderland last weekend and admits he cannot allow the prospect of a trip to Old Trafford to distract the Hammers from their league campaign.
“While Manchester United is the glory of the cup competition and it will be fantastic to go to Old Trafford, QPR next Saturday is our bread and butter and we must make sure we secure three points against them,” Allardyce said. “They are in the bottom two of the league and we have already lost to Reading, who were in the bottom two when we played them. We can’t keep losing to the people below us who are struggling as it gets them closer and we don’t want that.”
West Ham will face United without centerback James Collins, who damaged his hamstring at Sunderland and now joins fellow defenders Joey O’Brien and George McCartney on the injury list.
“We want to improve the strength of the squad,” Allardyce added. “I’d like to add a defender as we’ve now only got two centerhalves left in James Tomkins and Winston Reid. And aside from young Dan Potts, we’ve got no other left-back in the squad. I have been looking for a left-back for the last 10 days or so, but now I need a left-back that can play centerhalf or vice versa. We don’t want the injuries all in one area so we might need to take a look at the market and see if there’s anyone that can help us in that department.”