West Ham United are hoping to ride a wave of emotion all the way to the FA Cup semi-finals when they host Manchester United on Wednesday in the last Cup tie to be held at their historic Boleyn Ground.
Manager Slaven Bilic felt the atmosphere, at the east London stadium that has been home to some of the greats of English soccer, would give his players an extra boost for the quarter-final replay.
The Hammers will be moving to the Olympic Stadium next season after more than a century at the Boleyn and still harbour hopes of finishing in the top four and qualifying for the Champions League.
“We are fully motivated and it is a massive game of course. It is massive for us and it is massive for them,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
“It’s the final FA Cup tie at the Boleyn Ground, it’s Manchester United and it’s the quarter-finals. It can’t be bigger.”
West Ham are sixth in the Premier League, five points behind fourth-placed Manchester City and one point behind United.
Bilic said, however, that the sole focus was on booking a trip to Wembley to face Everton on April 23 in the semi-final.
With the first tie ending 1-1 at Old Trafford, the Croatian sympathised with his Dutch counterpart Louis van Gaal, who has come under intense scrutiny this season.
“It’s the stature of the club that they’re not happy with losing games, with being fifth in the table. They are Manchester United and they have not been as consistent this season,” Bilic said.
“But they are very capable of beating any team. It’s hard to be a manager. It’s the greatest job in the world, but at those massive clubs you’re expected to win every game.”
Bilic also heaped praise on striker Andy Carroll, who scored a hat-trick in Saturday’s 3-3 league draw with London rivals Arsenal.
“Carroll, when he is fit and in form, is a very special kind of player. He is different…He doesn’t have to score, but his presence on the pitch gives us another dimension,” said the 47-year-old.
Van Gaal meanwhile has warned his players to prepare for the “Andy Carroll show” when they confront West Ham and their marauding striker.
Carroll scored a six-minute hat-trick against Arsenal at the weekend and Van Gaal knows that his last chance to win a title with United may well hinge on how his side cope with him.
United’s defence fell apart in a 3-0 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, conceding three times – also in six minutes – and all but scuppering their hopes of Champions League qualification as well as raising more questions about Van Gaal’s future.
Any repeat of that at the Boleyn Ground on Wednesday and United’s FA Cup ambitions will vanish and the odds on Van Gaal failing to see out his three-year contract will shorten.
“I saw the Andy Carroll show (against Arsenal),” the Dutchman told reporters. “Carroll has special qualities and we have seen that in the match at Arsenal.
“Arsenal have great central defenders but still he could do that. We have to cope with Andy Carroll.”
Van Gaal accused his defenders of failing to communicate properly at Tottenham and says they must quickly recover from that beating.
“I hope we improve because this game is very important for us, it’s the last chance for a title, very important for the players, the club, the manager and the fans.
“We have to recover mentally because Spurs was a blow. Everyone knows this is the last chance.”
West Ham manager Slaven Bilic will be tempted to start with the injury-prone Carroll against a vulnerable United side who may have forward and skipper Wayne Rooney on the bench after his recovery from a knee problem.
But United must not be pre-occupied with the player Bilic describes as probably the best header of a ball in the world, according to Van Gaal, whose side still have an outside chance of qualifying for the Champions League.
“It’s not just Carroll, they have other players and a certain player called Dimitri Payet, and Manuel Lanzini who can score goals,” he said. “It’s always difficult to cope with these kind of players.”
Payet scored a magnificent free-kick in the original tie at Old Trafford last month before Anthony Martial equalised late on to earn United a replay.