West Ham and Manchester United will both have their sights set firmly on a top four place when the Premier League returns in midweek, and former Hammer Trevor Sinclair has told 90min that his former club have it in them to challenge for a Champions League spot.
United, currently sitting a single point above them, will be one of their main rivals for the position currently occupied by Spurs. Scenes at Old Trafford have been less than rosy of late though, with Louis van Gaal said to be teetering on the brink of leaving the club - a situation Sinclair has found himself closely tied to since December.
A tweet sent from his account at the height of the speculation that Van Gaal would be fired by Christmas claimed that the United boss had been let go, only to be swiftly retracted with an apology and explanation that a friend had sent the tweet as a prank.
School boy error 😂😂😂 left my phone on the table at a Christmas party 🎉🎉🎉 sincere apologies for my last 2 tweets #Merrychristmas— Trevor Sinclair (@trevor8sinclair) December 22, 2015
When asked if he should now be considered the number one source for Van Gaal news, he laughed: "Absolutely! Everyone keep an eye on my Twitter feed."
Speaking on behalf of 888poker.com, he continued more seriously, saying: "No, listen, I look at Manchester United now and after seeing the team, especially of the 90s - they're nowhere near that level now. Whether that's because of the players, who aren't quite as talented probably, but the manager doesn't seem to be able to get the right formula to get the best out of the players at the moment.
"I'm not sure why that is, but you look at Manchester United and the way they've been playing - and I've been keeping a close eye on their performances - and even though they beat Liverpool and they've had some decent results, their performances have been dire."
United's lack of attacking flair has been a major bugbear for a number of fans and pundits this season, and Sinclair admitted: "It's not been exciting, it's not been the swashbuckling Manchester United that we're used to, and that's part of their DNA and the fans expect that. You can't expect to play at the Theatre of Dreams and put in performances which are limp at best.
"Things have got to change there. I'm not sure what's going to change, but if Ryan Giggs does get the job I'm sure there's going to be a change of their philosophy and the way they're playing - and I think the fans will be happier for it.
"Whether the results are going to be as good I don't know, they're only 10 points behind Leicester which is amazing to me given the way the two teams have performed. I think something's got to change at Manchester United but as for how soon that's going to happen, it's all speculation."
United's current tally of 37 points after 23 games puts them three points behind where they were at the same stage of David Moyes' single disastrous season at the helm, a statistic which Sinclair admitted was "pretty damning", pointing out that the club have shelled out around £250m under the Dutchman.
He continued: "I think you look at the signings that he's brought in, they've not been a complete success, to be quite fair. Di Maria was a disaster, started really well and there was a lot of excitement around Old Trafford when he first came in, and that fell flat on its face.
"I think Martial started bright, but it's a big, big responsibility for a young lad. Then you look at Memphis, it's not really happened for him, and you could say that about a lot of the signings who have come in. They've all come in for massive money, and not really been able to hack it at Manchester United."
West Ham sit just a single point behind United in sixth place, and Sinclair said that recent form had shown that a first top four finish since 1986 was within reach, saying: "All the teams that are up there have got to have at least an outside chance of getting in that top four."
He continued: "I think the way that West Ham played against Manchester City [showed their potential], and Sam Byram didn't look like it was his debut against possibly one of the best attacking lineups in the country - he had an absolute blinder.
"Without digging out [Carl] Jenkinson so much, he's found it difficult this year. Obviously [Aaron] Cresswell on the other side's done really well, and Dimitri Payet is literally a cult hero already at West Ham - the fans adore him, the creativity, the goals, the assists, the trickery and the guile that he's shown have been so impressive. For me, he's got to be up there in the mix for Player of the Year if he continues. So why not? They've got goalscorers in the team, Valencia's shown that."
Payet has recently been compared to West Ham great Paolo Di Canio, who Sinclair played with for a number of seasons at Upton Park, and the Italian's former teammate said that the comparisons were entirely justified.
"I was lucky enough to play with Paolo Di Canio and he was amazing and at times he would win a game - or it would seem like he'd won the game himself with his outrageous talent. But away from home he didn't really reproduce that as much as Dimitri has - and also defensive-wise and graft for the team, I think Payet's bringing a bit more to the table.
"Listen, it's only early days, because Paolo was there for a few years, but the way that he's started his West Ham career he's certainly going to be talked upon in the same sentence as legends like Paolo Di Canio."
To read Trevor Sinclair’s thoughts on the the future of Yaya Touré, and Manchester City’s January transfer plans, head to 888poker.com
For more from Chris when he's not writing on 90min, follow him on Twitter at @ThatChris1209!