Tue. Mar 2nd, 2021

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FA Cup: What makes West Ham so dangerous for Manchester United

6 min read

David Moyes watched on seven years ago today as his Manchester United reign took another miserable turn when they dropped two points against Fulham at Old Trafford.

It was the infamous game where United played a ridiculous 81 crosses into the Fulham box, of which only 18 found a team-mate, as they huffed and puffed their way to another disappointing result under the Scot.

Now in charge of a resurgent West Ham, Moyes returns to Old Trafford tonight in the FA Cup fifth-round and can be quietly optimistic of knocking his former employers out of the competition.  

Here, Sportsmail looks at some of the key areas he will be hoping to exploit as the Hammers try to pull off a famous win.

In-form West Ham visit Manchester United on tonight hoping to dump them out the FA Cup

In-form West Ham visit Manchester United on tonight hoping to dump them out the FA Cup

Goals from everywhere

When West Ham loaned Tomas Soucek from Slavia Prague 12 months ago, they were probably hoping he could have some impact in the final third.

He had scored 40 goals in 158 appearances for Slavia, once every 3.95 games, but has taken his goal-scoring to new heights in east London with a goal every 3.3 games.

Soucek, who has seven goals this term, is yet to grab an assist after making his stay at the Hammers permanent in the summer but he is being used increasingly as the final point of attacks.

His goal at Aston Villa after a powerful run from midfield and superb pass from Said Benrahma summed up Soucek’s role. 

Tomas Soucek (L) is West Ham's top scorer this season, easing the burden on their strikers

Tomas Soucek (L) is West Ham’s top scorer this season, easing the burden on their strikers

The 25-year-old’s contribution in the final third has helped ease the pressure on Michail Antonio as West Ham’s sole striker but others in the squad are also contributing.

Jarrod Bowen and Antonio both have five so far this season, Craig Dawson has three while Pablo Fornals, Angelo Ogbonna, Andriy Yarmolenko and Jesse Lingard have two each.

It certainly helps to have goals in all areas when going to one of the Premier League’s ‘Big Six’ and Moyes has plenty of threats both in open play and set pieces. 

Settled system

In the early weeks of the season Moyes couldn’t find a preferred formation and often switched between 4-2-3-1 and 5-4-1.

But since the impressive away win at Everton on New Year’s Day, the Hammers boss has stuck with the 4-2-3-1 and not looked back.

It has helped them to victories over the Toffees, Burnley, West Brom, Crystal Palace and Aston Villa in the Premier League. 

Aside from the recent home defeat by Liverpool, in which the Hammers were well off their best as they failed to lay a glove on the champions, West Ham have impressed since the turn of the year.

Craig Dawson (right) and Angelo Ogbonna (centre) have formed a formidable defensive pairing with Declan Rice (left) shielding them in midfield

Craig Dawson (right) and Angelo Ogbonna (centre) have formed a formidable defensive pairing with Declan Rice (left) shielding them in midfield

Consistency in team selection has also helped Moyes build momentum.

The back five of Lukasz Fabianski, Vladimir Coufal, Dawson, Ogbonna and Aaron Cresswell are now a settled unit and Soucek and Declan Rice have formed a formidable midfield partnership.

With Antonio guaranteed to start up front when fit, Moyes then rotates the three offensive midfielders with Bowen, Benrahma, Pablo Fornals, Lingard and Yarmolenko all getting game time.

It remains to be seen whether Moyes will play his strongest line-up at Old Trafford but, with their next game not until Monday night, he should go full strength.

Dangerous full-backs

Adding another dimension to West Ham’s attacking play is their full backs.

On the right Coufal has been just as impressive as his former Slavia Prague team-mate Soucek, while Cresswell has come into his own under Moyes.

He is West Ham’s leading supplier this season, collecting five assists so far, and Moyes has even tipped him for an England call-up if he can continue his current form.

Cresswell’s wicked delivery into the box from wide positions and his set pieces cause opposition defences huge problems and adds another weapon to West Ham’s attack.

Coufal has been a superb buy and was impressive in shackling Jack Grealish at Aston Villa

Cresswell leads West Ham's assist chart with five so far this season

Vladimir Coufal (left) and Aaron Cresswell (right) have been superb for West Ham this season

Coufal, meanwhile, has three assists to his name and is just as menacing on the right side.

The Czech defender was superb in shackling Jack Grealish in the victory over Aston Villa, something not many defenders have been able to do in the Premier League this season.

Both will have their hands full tonight with Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and maybe Paul Poga, who is sometimes used out wide by Solskjaer. But they have proven in recent weeks they are more than up to the challenge. 

Pace on the break

United can probably expect to have most of the ball tonight. They are the home side after all and will want to control the flow of the game.

West Ham only had 39 per cent possession when the sides met at the London Stadium in December so what the Hammers do when they finally get it back could be key.

Antonio was exhausted when taken off at Fulham but his pace will be critical for West Ham if he is passed fit to play.

Bowen is becoming integral to how Moyes wants to play and his work rate, pace and final ball could also be critical to snatching victory. 

Michail Antonio's pace on the break could be crucial if West Ham are to progress in the FA Cup

Michail Antonio’s pace on the break could be crucial if West Ham are to progress in the FA Cup

Benrahma can also offer West Ham a threat on the break if he plays on the left but supply into the front three will have to be perfect to bypass a United defence that sits relatively deep.

Mark Noble came on at Fulham to offer some solidity to the midfield and Moyes could start him in a 4-3-3 formation at Old Trafford if he wants to be cautious.

A more front-footed option would be to play Pablo Fornals in that No 10 role he flourishes in. That would give plenty of creativity in attack and provide the ammunition to damage United.

Moyes with a point to prove

Since leaving United in 2014, Moyes has managed Real Sociedad, Sunderland and West Ham over two spells.

There is no doubt that this is the best team he has been in charge of since his stint at Old Trafford – both in terms of quality within the squad and the results they are producing.

The Scot aimed a sly dig at his former employers this week by suggesting that the only reason they are succeeding is because Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been given the time he was not.

Despite coming very close to the sack, United stuck by Solskjaer earlier this season and now he has got the Red Devils at their most competitive since Sir Alex Ferguson retired eight years ago. 

David Moyes heads to Old Trafford with the best team he has managed since leaving United

David Moyes heads to Old Trafford with the best team he has managed since leaving United

Moyes was not afforded such faith and just 10 months into his six-year contract, United sacked him and instead hired Louis van Gaal then Jose Mourinho before finally settling with Solskjaer in 2018. 

But he is now doing a fine revival job in east London and has proven he is more than capable of turning a team’s fortunes around when given the capacity to do so.

Under Moyes, West Ham have already managed 39 points from 23 Premier League games – the same total he managed the whole of their relegation-threatened campaign last season.

The Hammers’ surprise form has also seen them rise to a lofty sixth place and are just a point behind champions Liverpool in the last of the Champions League places. 

Moyes will be confident his boys can deliver a knockout blow to United’s FA Cup chances. 

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