The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
1st Jan, 6:15 PM IST – Live on ESPN
This week’s early kick-off pits Sir Alex’s red army against Roberto Dimatteo’s men at the Hawthhorns. The grand old man of Old Trafford has just turned 69 and would be hoping his United side can finally shrug-off their away day blues and give him a belated birthday present. The reverse fixtures between these two sides produced an upset earlier in the season as a rare Van Der Sar howler gave the Baggies a well earned point as they remain the only team to get anything at Old Trafford this season.
West Brom are having a pretty torrid Christmas period as they have lost three games on the bounce which has thrown them back in the relegation battle. Just three points above the drop zone, all the hard work done by the Baggies at the start of the season could be undone in a matter of weeks should they be unable to stem the slide. They would also be keen to turn around a terrible record against United as they have not won at home against them since 1984.
Manchester United, on the other hand, are having a torrid time themselves on their travels with just one win out of eight on the road. Still unbeaten in the league, Sir Alex’s men have had a problem conceding late goals this season – the latest of them coming at St. Andrews in the last game. Despite their away troubles, United are still top of the standings with games in hand over their title rivals and another three points would give a major boost to their title aspirations. The Hawthorns has proved to be a happy hunting ground for the Red Devils and they would hope to end their away blues.
Team News and Tactical Brief
West Bromwich Albion
Di Matteo would be sweating upon the fitness of Paul Scharner who has been ill since their loss against Blackburn. However, Olsson is still out due to an Achilles problem. Their is some good news for the manager as he welcomes Chris Brunt who returns after serving a one-match ban. However, Jara and Tamas would miss the game as the pair is suspended after receiving a fifth yellow and a red card respectively in the last game.
West Brom have tried to play delightful possession football in the earlier games and the same can be expected again in this game. Chris Brunt would return to the starting line-up after missing the last game, while the suspended duo of Jara and Tamas could be replaced with Marek Cech and Pablo Ibanez. Leading scorer Odemwingie is likely to be the lone striker but he will have able support from midfield from Tchoyi who likes making late runs in the box.
Sir Alex is having some selection problems following injuries to key players during the festive period. Nani is likely to shake off his hip injury but injuries to versatile John O’ Shea and Scholes have left the manager short of options. Park’s involvement in the Asia Cup has also not helped the cause as the Boss had to play Gibson on the wing in the last game. Michael Owen is fit and is expected to be on the bench but Hargreaves and Valencia are still out for the Red Devils.
The manager might be tempted to go again with the same back four of Rafael, Vidic, Ferdinand and Evra despite this being their third game in six days. The defence has looked solid and was unlucky to concede a late goal against Birmingham. Fletcher could start the game as the manager might be looking to rest Michael Carrick who has played the full 90 minutes in both the games last week. It will also be interesting to see whether Sir Alex would start Rooney despite another poor performance at St. Andrews and so he might just be tempted to go with Javier Hernandez alongside Berbatov
Key Match Facts
1) The Baggies have conceded the most number of goals (34) this season in the league.
2) West Brom have had 6 red cards this season – most for any team.
3) United have won their last 6 matches at the Hawthorns.
TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR
Dimitar Berbatov (Manchester United)
The Bulgarian has scored an amazing 8 goals in his last 3 league games and is currently the front-runner in the race to the Golden Boot award with 14 goals. All the talks of him being lazy has stopped as he has been simply unstoppable with not only his goals but also his overall link-up play. He is once again the main man for United and could be very difficult for the Baggies to stop.
West Bromwich Albion 1-2 Manchester United
The away blues for United will end here as the Red Devils will keep the West Brom slide going with a hard fought away win.
TheHardTackle’s BLAST FROM THE PAST