It is set to be a hugely emotional occasion on Tuesday at Upton Park, when West Ham plays their final ever match at the east London stadium they have called home for 112 years. For Manchester United, though, there is no room to be gracious guests at the farewell party.
Having been on the outside looking in for much of the second half of the season, Manchester United now know that if they claim maximum points at Upton Park and then at home to Bournemouth on Sunday they will sneak into the top four and secure a place in next season’s Champions League. Manchester City’s draw at home to Arsenal at the weekend has opened the door for their neighbors to unexpectedly rescue a season that has frequently appeared on the verge of collapse.
With an FA Cup final to come, having beaten West Ham in the quarterfinals, Louis van Gaal, despite being under huge pressure for most of the season, could have a growing case for seeing out the final year of his contract next season. It is no surprise then that the veteran Dutch coach is hoping to crash West Ham’s party.
“Tuesday we have to play against an opponent who says goodbye to the stadium,” Van Gaal, who confirmed he will wait on a fitness test for Anthony Martial, said in his pre-match press conference. “So they don't want to lose in their own stadium.
“They have already lost to Manchester United in the last FA Cup match. That is also history. That is not good for us. And West Ham United is a very good team. We have a lot of respect for west ham united. It’s a historical big club in England so we don’t want to spoil their party but we need the three points, that’s different.”
Had West Ham managed to get a victory at the weekend, then they too would still be competing for a place in the Champions League. Instead, in the penultimate match at Upton Park, West Ham went down 4-1 to Swansea City to effectively leave themselves out of contention. Indeed they now need a win on Tuesday to be in charge of their own destiny in the final match of the season to get a Europa League place.
Missing out on Europe would be a significant disappointment after what has been a hugely encouraging season under Slaven Bilic. Regardless, there are big reasons for optimism around the club. West Ham will move into the Olympic Stadium next season and have already sold more than 50,000 season tickets for the 60,000-capacity stadium. Still, there will be plenty of emptions on Tuesday at having to say goodbye to Upton Park.
Some of the most famous names in English football have called the stadium home over the decades, most notably three of the men who won the World Cup with England in 1966, including captain Bobby Moore and final hat-trick hero Geoff Hurst. It is no wonder the club has long been referred to as The Academy of Football, a tradition that continued with the development of England internationals Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand Michael Carrick, Joe Cole and Jermain Defoe in more recent years.
“It’s a big game for a couple of reasons and one of them is that this is the last game ever at Upton Park,” Bilic said. “Then, if you add to that it’s a very important game for us and for Manchester United, as both teams need to win the game, it makes it mega-big!
“It will be a game of emotions and you can’t stop it. It’s impossible to tell the players, the staff and spectators that it’s a normal game, but it’s not a normal game. It’s a special one and a once-in-a-lifetime kind of game. It’s going to be emotional but we have to channel those emotions to be our motivator and our detonator in order to win.”
D: Antonio, Reid, Ogbonna, Cresswell
M: Kouyate, Noble
Moses, Lanzini, Payet
G: De Gea
D: Valencia, Smalling, Blind, Rojo
Lingard, Rooney, Mata, Martial
Prediction: West Ham were surprisingly poor in a heavy defeat at home to Swansea to blow their chance of a Champions League berth. They were also far from their best in the final FA Cup match when going down to Manchester United. It could be a similar scenario on Tuesday, perhaps with the emotion of the occasion inhibiting the team’s performance. Manchester United, meanwhile, although still far from free-flowing, are on a roll after winning five and drawing one of their last six matches. With such a huge prize at stake, they could get another win on Tuesday.
Predicted score: West Ham 1-2 Manchester United
Kickoff time: 2:45 p.m. EDT
TV channel: NBCSN
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra