Having not won the trophy since 2004, could this be the year Manchester United win the FA cup? The Red Devil’s third round tie is away to West Ham United and Sir Alex Ferguson is likely to chop and change his side from the one that played a few days before at Wigan.
Anders Lindegaard – Lindegaard hasn’t featured since December 1 with David de Gea playing in goal for United’s last seven games. Ferguson will probably use this tie as an opportunity to give the Dane a game.
Phil Jones – Ferguson will want to give his English starlet a run-out, probably at right-back, after confirming he is available for the match.
Chris Smalling – Smalling may well come in for Rio Ferdinand in this match due to the elder Englishman’s inability to play too many games in too short a space of time.
Nemanja Vidic – The Serbian captain, like Ferdinand, has to manage how many games he plays but after a week off Vidic will probably come in for Jonny Evans who played all of Manchester United’s Christmas fixtures.
Alexander Büttner – Büttner’s last appearance was almost a month ago and Ferguson has hinted that he will rest Patrice Evra, therefore prompting suggestions that his Dutch understudy will replace him.
Antonio Valencia – After not appearing against Wigan in United’s last match, Valencia is likely to come into the side on the right-wing for this game.
Darren Fletcher – Like Evra, Ferguson has suggested he will also rest Michael Carrick which leaves the door open for Darren Fletcher to come into the side as a slightly more defensive-minded midfielder.
Paul Scholes – Scholes will be fresh and ready after not playing too much recently and his experience could be key in this FA cup tie. Scholes is one of the few players remaining in the United squad to have a FA cup winners medal.
Nick Powell – Perhaps an unusual prediction but Nick Powell may well start on left-wing for United. The youngster has appeared on the left in some of his first-team appearances this season and may well be given a start there if Ferguson deems it prudent to rest his other options. His lack of natural wide instinct may be more than compensated for by Büttner’s attacking tendencies.
Shinji Kagawa – The nimble Japanese star is still making his way back to full fitness after an injury. A start against West Ham would take him further along that road.
Danny Welbeck – Welbeck is likely to be picked after only making one start during the Christmas period. The Englishman’s height could be vital in defending set-pieces.
There is a chance Ferguson may select the diamond formation against West Ham to utilise his vast central options but the likelihood is that he will stick with trusted width in a 4-2-3-1. If the team above is correct, then Kagawa will start behind Danny Welbeck and may even interchange on the left-wing with Nick Powell. Most of United’s attacks will probably stem from the right-wing through the touchline-hugging Valencia. Paul Scholes in particular will relish the opportunity to spread play wide to Valencia.
When defending West Ham’s set-pieces and long-balls, the aerial strength of Smalling and Vidic will be vital as could be the height of Nick Powell and Danny Welbeck. Due to the waning dynamism of the central midfield pairing, Fletcher and Scholes will also probably sit quite deep, placing an important onus on the players ahead of them (especially Kagawa) to create opportunities and work hard.