Match Preview: Manchester United vs. West Bromwich Albion


By Richard Evans

Introduction

Manchester United entertain West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford on Sunday, looking for a vital three points that would build momentum for their title push.

United’s 3-1 success at White Hart Lane last Sunday ended an extremely tough run of fixtures, and for the Reds to emerge from games against Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool only two points behind City, shows the determination and quality this young United side has.

However West Brom will come to the Theatre of Dreams on Sunday full of confidence, after winning their last three league games, scoring ten goals in the process. Last time out they disposed of Chelsea at the Hawthorns, the game which ultimately led to Andre Villas Boas getting the sack.

You also have to remember that the Baggies were the only side to leave Old Trafford with anything last season, as United’s incredible home record of 18 wins and one draw helped them to the title. It would have been 19 straight wins had Somen Tchoyi not pounced on an uncharacteristic van der Sar mistake, to give the away side an unlikely 2-2 draw.

This season, United travelled to Albion on the opening day and were made to work very hard to secure all three points in a 2-1 victory. Wayne Rooney opened the scoring with a low drive, before David De Gea allowed a Shane Long shot to squeeze underneath him to level the tie. With the game heading into the last ten minutes, a draw looked the most likely outcome, until Ashley Young escaped down the left and his low centre was deflected in off Steven Reid to send the travelling support into raptures.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s men head into the game on the back of another disappointing European display, after being outplayed by Athletic Club Bilbao. However their league form is fantastic, winning six of their last seven games, and they haven’t lost since Newcastle away on 4th January. Keep up form like that and City will be very worried indeed.

Team Selection Thoughts

David De Gea is enjoying his best run of form in a United shirt at the moment and has improved immeasurably since the start of the season. He has made numerous world class saves in recent matches and prevented the Reds from conceding six or seven on Thursday night. He alone is the reason United still have a hope in the Europa League. Hopefully he won’t be required as often on Sunday.

At the back, Sir Alex Ferguson will leave it until the last minute to decide upon the fitness of Chris Smalling, who is still being plagued by a head injury suffered on international duty. If he fails to make the game then Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans should start alongside each other at centre back, with the pair forming a good understanding since Nemanja Vidic was sidelined. Patrice Evra should continue at left back and the right back berth will be filled by either Rafael or Phil Jones.

The midfield will look very different from that which started against Bilbao, with Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes expected to return to the middle. United were outclassed in that department against Bilbao and it wasn’t until Carrick came on that the Reds began to make inroads. He has been one of the most consistent performers for Sir Alex this term and has arguably had his best season for the Reds in two or three years. Tom Cleverley could be named on the bench after recovering from an ankle injury whilst Anderson could get some minutes after adding some impetus to United on Thursday night.

Out wide, Nani should return to the starting eleven after making way for Park against Bilbao, and Ashley Young is likely to keep his place after starring against Spurs. The ex Villa winger started the season in brilliant form, but lost his way slightly after picking up an ankle injury. However, last weekend he showed just what he can do, and if he maintains that sort of form between now and the end of the season, he could be key to United’s title chances. Antonio Valencia misses out but should return next week, with United missing his scintillating pace and directness.

Up front, Wayne Rooney should start alongside Danny Welbeck, with Javier Hernandez dropping to the bench. Rooney has seven goals in his last five appearances for United, and could be hitting form at the just the right time. Dimitar Berbatov wasn’t included on Thursday and it remains unclear whether he will return to the match day squad.

Three Key Battles

Rio Ferdinand vs. Peter Odemwingie

The Baggies striker has been in fantastic form of late, scoring five goals in his last three games, including a hat trick in their 5-1 demolition of Black Country rivals Wolves. He thrives on instinct and if United allow him chances then he’s bound to punish them. Ferdinand will have to keep a close eye on him, ensuring the Nigerian born striker has no time and space. Considering he is likely to be Albion’s biggest threat, if he can be kept quiet then Sir Alex Ferguson’s men can concentrate on scoring goals rather than conceding them.

Wayne Rooney vs. Liam Ridgewell

Rooney has scored seven goals in his last five games in all competitions and his performance determines whether the Reds play well. United need him to be on song for the rest of the season starting on Sunday. Should Rooney find top form then West Brom will have their work cut out dealing with him, and after scoring against Tottenham and Bilbao he should be full of confidence.

Nani vs. Jonas Olsson

Nani has set up ten goals this season, including one in each of his last two games, and the Portuguese winger could be returning to form. If United can get the ball wide then Nani can use his trickery and speed to create chances, as well as striking for goal from range. He will need to be on form too, because as soon as Valencia returns his starting place will be in doubt.

Summary

Old Trafford has not been the fortress it once was but Sir Alex Ferguson’s men should record an 11th win at home on Sunday if they play to their potential. West Brom will prove a stern test and Peter Odemwingie should cause problems but the Red Devils will know the importance of three points at this crucial stage of the season and should get the job done.

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