LIVE from Old Trafford, Manchester
December 26, 15:00 GMT
The hectic festive period is well and truly underway as teams up and down the country are beginning to feel the strain with matches coming thick and fast. After a draining and an energy sapping tie against the Magpies, United entertain the Baggies at Old Trafford. Usually a home banker, but West Brom are having a blinder this term and despite a mid season stutter are well worth their lofty league position.
Manchester United once again came from behind to beat Newcastle but this was no ordinary feat. This win was achieved despite grave difficulty, in spite of major first team absentees and perhaps tested the squad strength to the fullest. Ferguson and United passed the examination and now stand seven points clear of their nearest rivals as Sunderland did the Red Devils a huge favor by defeating Man City at the Stadium of Light. Furthermore, the squad will be reinvigorated once again for the visit of West Brom as no less than three first team players are expected back from their illness and injuries.
West Brom got their campaign back on track with a hard fought win against relegation threatened QPR and now Steve Clark and his men can look forward to another long run of positive results, although getting anything out of the trip to Old Trafford would surely be a massive bonus. Nevertheless, West Brom have already exceeded all preseason expectation and hence pressure must surely be off their shoulders. After the trip to Manchester, the Baggies have a relatively easier fixture list and that should see them maintain their position in the top half of league standings.
Team News & Tactical Brief
The manager found himself dealing with an injury crisis out of nowhere against Newcastle as the likes of Rooney, Young, Jones, Welbeck were all ruled out before the game leaving Fergie with no choice other than to put three defenders along with Tunnicliffe on the bench. Although Rooney and Jones are still missing, Ashley Young and Danny Welbeck are likely to be fit. Another good news for Manchester United is that Shinji Kagawa, who took part in the warm-up against Newcastle, could make the bench. Anderson, Nani and Rafael are still out which is a bit of concern for the manager as it has hindered his squad rotation. Nemanja Vidic should be back in the starting line-up after being rested against the Magpies. The Serbian did really well against Swansea on last Sunday and the United back-line looked much assured under the guidance of their captain. However, it might be Ferdinand’s turn to be rested as the manager has been reluctant to play his veteran defender successive games in four days. Hence it should be Jonny Evans to partner Vidic with Smalling on the right-flank.
Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs are likely to be rested as well with both being involved on Boxing Day on an energy sapping pitch. This should allow Tom Cleverley to be reinstated in the starting line-up alongside Michael Carrick, who was clinical for the home side in midweek. Ashley Young will return on the left wing while Antonio Valencia or Danny Welbeck will be on the right flank. Chicharito and Robin van Persie will be playing up front and although Sir Alex will relish to give the Dutchman a rest, he is unlikely to take a chance with Wayne Rooney missing.
Carrick and Cleverley have been a big game formation for Manchester United this season as the solidity of Carrick coupled with the movement and slick passing of Cleverley has caused problems to the majority of teams. The younger Englishman likes to link with the front-men with his short passing and movement while the former Spurs man will do the job of the deep lying playmaker bringing the wide men into play. RvP will be playing in the free role behind Hernandez, who as always will be playing on the shoulder of the last man. Defensively, United will look to give a better account of themselves than they did against the Magpies and the return of Vidic will certainly make them a lot solid at the back.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Smalling, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Young, Carrick, Cleverley, Welbeck; van Persie; Chicharito
Steve Clarke is sweating on the fitness of Jonas Olsson, Goran Popov and Youssouf Mulumbu as the trio picked up injuries in their win against QPR and are all major doubt for Saturday’s trip to Old Trafford. Claudio Yacob is certain to miss the game while Steven Reid will also face a late fitness test after missing the last two games due to a hamstring injury.
Liam Ridgewell is certain to start at left back in place of Popov while the manager might be tempted to take a risk with Jonas Olsson to play in central defence alongside McAuley with Billy Jones taking his place as a right-back. In midfield, Graham Dorrans and Chris Brunt are likely to start as the two defensive midfielders in case Mulumbu is not available. Fortune and Gera will play on the flanks while James Morrison will be playing in the hole behind the central striker. United were troubled a lot by Demba Ba on Boxing day and hence Clarke might be inclined to play Romelu Lukaku as the target man.
Tactically, Clarke will be looking to stifle United in midfield and the onus of that will be upon his two defensive midfielders. One of them has to keep close to Michael Carrick as he clearly showed against Newcastle what he can do when allowed time and space on the ball. Also, van Persie will need a lot of attention as the Dutchman will be the lynch pin for the home side’s attacks in absence of Wayne Rooney.
Offensively, West Brom will try and hit Manchester United on the break as often as possible as they have been vulnerable in getting back into shape quickly, especially down the left hand side where Patrice Evra has been caught out far too many times this season. Also, they could pose a threat from set-pieces with Lukaku in the mix.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Foster; Jones, McAuley, Olsson, Ridgewell; Brunt, Dorrans; Fotrune, Morrison, Gera; Lukaku
- Manchester United have won 10 and drawn 2 of their 12 Premier League games against West Brom with both draws coming at Old Trafford.
- Manchester United have conceded the same number of goals at home (17) as Southampton.
- West Brom are only behind the two Manchester clubs in terms of number of victories this season, leveled with Chelsea and Spurs.
- Jonny Evans and Patrice Evra are two of the best scoring defenders in the league this season with four goals each to their names.
Player To Watch Out For
Michael Carrick (Manchester United)
The midfield maestro, who began the season rather slowly, seems to be getting to his best since the last few games. His performance against Newcastle, after a rather inconsistent first half was out of the top drawer as he dictated the pace of the game during the second period. While Carrick earned lots of praise for his assist to Hernandez, his touch to setup Robin van Persie for United’s third equalizer was also out of the world as he showed great awareness to tee up the Dutchman in a tight area. Fergie will be looking up to the Englishman once again to deliver the goods against a resilient West Brom outfit.
Manchester United 3-1 West Brom
The Baggies will be testing United’s resolve and although the home side will be a lot better defensively due to the presence of Nemanja Vidic, it is hard to see them keeping a clean sheet. However, the strength of their forward line has outweighed the weakness of their defence in majority of games this season and it will be much the same on Saturday night at Old Trafford. Although the neutrals will be hoping of a Boxing Day repeat, Fergie and the fans will be happy with a much more comfortable win.