Manchester United take on West Ham later today, hoping to go three points clear at the top of the table before Chelsea play Newcastle on Monday. It is a crucial game which United have no choice but to win. On paper, you’d imagine this should be no problem, but you only have to look at our history against West Ham to start feeling the nerves.
They beat us towards the close of the 1992-1993 season at Upton Park, denying us the title. They stopped us from scoring, somehow, at the end end of the 1994-1995 season, denying us the title. In the last three games we’ve played against them, we’ve lost. Of all the teams we could play in the last two games of the season, I’d put West Ham pretty high up on the “avoid if possible” list.
West Ham’s manager, Alan Curbishley, came to Old Trafford on the last day of the 2005-2006 season. United had just beaten his side, Charlton, 4-0, sealing up our 2nd spot in the league. This was Curbishley’s last game in charge of Charlton after managing them for 15 years. As a goodbye present, Sir Alex Ferguson, on behalf of Manchester United, gave him two plane tickets to Australia to go and visit his sister, a sign of the respect and friendship between the two men.
Since then, Curbishley has taken up the post as West Ham manager and beat United on the last day of the season, to save them from relegation. He has beaten us again this season, coming back from 1-0 down to beat us 2-1, goals coming late on after Cristiano Ronaldo missed a penalty.
With the game approaching, Curbishley spoke out about United’s title chances, rightly claiming it would be a travesty if United didn’t win. Look at the football United have played in comparison to Chelsea’s. Whilst the points total will tell us we’re equals, any fan of football can see the leagues of class and style that separates the two sides. Chelsea have been scraping results out for for months, playing dull and uninspired football. Is Curbishley wrong to state this fact? According to Avram Grant, he is.
“Look, I’m not doubting the integrity of West Ham,” said Grant. “I don’t have a reason to doubt the integrity of Alan Curbishley. But I think it’s wrong to say things like this because he’s involved in the games against United. I don’t think it’s a good idea to say things like this. I cannot be angry. I will not be angry. I do not know what to say about these things, but I think it’s wrong. But I do not have any reason to doubt the integrity of him or his club. West Ham are more interested in the success of their club, to win their games. If they have wishes for others, you have to ask them.”
It sounds very much as though he is doubting the integrity of Curbishley and West Ham, otherwise what is the point he’s making? If he trusts that Curbishley won’t throw the game, what is the problem with Curbishley saying he thinks United are more deserving of the title than Chelsea?
Curbishley quickly responded to Grant’s claims, which weren’t too different from the embarrassing attempts Jose used to throw about in his last season at the club, claiming they are ridiculous. “I will raise a glass to whoever wins the title because they will have deserved it,” Curbishley said. “It is too ridiculous for words really. If I am supposed to be biased in favour of Manchester United, how come we’ve beaten them the last three times we’ve played them? United can expect no favours from us.”
Sir Alex Ferguson has also responded to Grant’s criticism today, claiming that Chelsea have sunk to new lows in their attempt to win the title.
“I think Chelsea are prepared to try anything – so let them get on with it,” he said. “I am surprised at this. But I don’t need to get involved. I’ve got a team that can answer any questions. I don’t know why he’s (Grant) suggesting there’s going to be anything untoward. They should know – better than anyone – about these situations.”
I can only wonder what Grant will say when he realises we play Wigan on the last game of the season, with Ferguson’s former captain in charge…