The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
August 14, 2011; 15:00 GMT
Amidst the chaos surrounding the unfortunate incidents in England over the past few days, the biggest endorsee of the spirit of British Isles – the Barclays Premier League, is back. Moreover, the Champions Manchester United are back to defend their crown with a tough away trip to West Midlands against Roy Hogdson’s West Bromwich Albion. Sir Alex’s United side would be keen to start the season on the right note as they have more than a few sturdy tests waiting in store early on in the campaign. On the other hand, the Baggies would want to build on a solid finish to the last campaign, where they surpassed all expectations under the watchful eyes of Hodgson who took over the reigns from Roberto Di Matteo.
The last meeting between the two sides at the Hawthorns produced another fantastic advert for the English game; United came through in the end, but not without a hint of good fortune, to record one of only five away victories last season. A lot has changed since, new players and even a new manager at the helm for the Baggies but make no mistakes the game will be as fierce as any, especially being the season opener for both the sides.
Can ex-Liverpool manager ruin United’s start?
Roy Hodgson’s men come into this game after a mixed pre-season having won three games, drawing three and losing the other two. The manager, who is enjoying the first transfer window since taking charge of the Baggies, has been involved in the transfer marker and done rather well. Hodgson has secured the services of ex-United keeper, Ben Foster on loan from Birmingham, while he has also signed keeper Marton Fulop and Zoltan Gera on free transfers. The wily old Englishman has also spent money by signing Reading striker Shane Long for a reported fee of seven million pounds. He is also in talks with former United man Owen Hargreaves as the Canadian-born midfielder could be yet another signing on a free transfer. Having taken West Brom from relegation threatening 17th to a respectable 11th position during his four month spell last season, Hodgson is expected to do better this term with the fans expecting a first half finish. However, he could not have asked for a more daunting start, as his team entertains the champions on the opening day of the season.
Manchester United, on the other hand, have started the season on a perfect note winning all of their pre-season games including a not-so-friendly encounter against ‘noisy neighbours’ Manchester City in the Community Shield at Wembley last weekend. Down and out after the first half, Ferguson’s men staged a remarkable comeback as the young Red Devils stunned their opponents by snatching an injury-time winner to lift the Shield. However, Sir Alex would be the first person to admit that the pre-season is gone and the real business starts this weekend at the Hawthorns, where the Champions would like to start their title defence in the perfect manner. Also, with games against Tottenham and Arsenal coming up in the next two weeks, its imperative for United to secure maximum points and get off to a good start to the season.
Team News and Tactical Brief
West Bromwich Albion
Roy Hodgson faces a tough start to the season not only in terms of opponents, but also due to several injury problems. Steven Ried is doubtful for the game with a torn muscle, while Youssouf Mulumbu is also an unlikely starter due to an abdominal strain. Winger Jerome Thomas and midfielder Paul Scharner are also suffering from dead leg and Achilles problems . However they are likely to be fit for the game. But the biggest problem for the manager is the fitness of star striker Peter Odemwingie, who is having trouble with his ankle. Hodgson would be really hoping to get his front man, as he is one player who could create problems for any back-line including that of Manchester United. New Boy Zoltan Gera is suspended for the match as he starts his three game suspension for having been sent off for Fulham in the last game of last season against Arsenal.
Despite not being at hundred percent, Odewingie is likely to start the game given the magnitude of the fixture. However, if he is sidelined, Shane Long is likely lead the line on his first start with the club. The striker could be the lone man upfront for West Brom as the manager is most likely to go with a 4-5-1 formation. Somen Tchoyi would be the furthest forward and could also play as a deep lying striker playing off the front-man. Rest of the midfield is expected to have a familiar look with Brunt, Scharner, Morrison and Jerome Thomas. The back-line is most likely to be a flat back four with the full backs rarely going forward unless their team is behind in the second half. Ben Foster would be given the responsibility of guarding the goal against his former club.
Probable Starting Line-up: (4-5-1) Foster, Reyes, Tamas, Olsson, Shorey, Brunt, Morrison, Tchoyi, Scharner, Thomas, Odemwingie
Sir Alex, unlike his counter-part, is relatively at ease in terms of injuries and suspensions although, the Scot has a much bigger squad at his disposal. Javier Hernandez is still injured and due to return to training in ten days as he is still recovering from concussion suffered in pre-season. Darren Fletcher and Antonio Valencia are also out but the good news for United is that both are going to be involved in the reserves game on Monday. Out of the squad available for last week against Man City, Patrice Evra is doubtful for Sunday’s game having still not recovered from a knee injury he suffered at Wembley. Also, Danny Welbeck and Michael Carrick could be out as both pulled out from England’s squad for the Holland game in midweek. But the biggest setback of all for the manager is the injury to Rafael. The Brazilian dislocated his shoulder in training with the extent on injury still unknown. Rest of the squad is fit and ready for the first game of the season.
David De Gea is likely to start the game in goal despite his errors at Wembley, as Sir Alex would like to give some confidence to his multi-million pound signing. In front of him would be the strong pairing of Vidic and Ferdinand, both of whom would like to improve on their showing from last Sunday. Smalling is likely to keep his place at right-back after a brilliant performance last week, while Fabio is going to replace injured Evra. In the midfield, Anderson would take up the duties of team’s play maker as he has done wonderfully well in the pre-season including the game against City. New signing Ashley Young and Nani would be on the flanks and would be constantly swapping their positions throughout the game. Carrick, if fit, is likely to be the other central midfielder’s role or else Cleverley would be taking up that position. Up-front it would be Berbatov and Rooney with the latter dropping off in midfield from time to time.
Probable Starting Line-up: (4-4-1-1) De Gea, Smalling, Ferdinand, Vidic, Fabio, Nani, Carrick, Anderson, Young, Rooney, Berbatov
Key Match Facts
1) West Brom managed only two clean sheets in the entire last season.
2) Manchester United have not lost a Premier League game to West Brom.
3) United scored most goals in the league from headers last season including both their goals in this fixture.
TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR
Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
Fergie’s Lethal Weapon
The star striker had a poor start to last season as he was surrounded by off-field problems. However, there are no such worries this term as Rooney would be looking to hit the ground running from the start. If he is on song, as he has been in pre-season, Hodgson and Roy Hodgson would be having serious problems.
West Bromwich Albion 1-2 Manchester United
It will be an entertaining fixture with Hodgson’s men posing lots of problems for the Red Devils. However, United will have enough in the tank to see out the Baggies.