The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
May 19, 2013; 15:00 GMT
A journey that began 39 years ago amidst minimal fanfare in a non-descript little club named East Stirlingshire based in the town of Falkirk in central Scotland will finally end on Sunday at The Hawthorns in West Midlands in presence of the entire world media. Sir Alexander Chapman Ferguson will take his last bow as manager in professional football when he sits in the Manchester United dugout for 1500th time (discounting the few instances when his truculence towards football authorities led to him being banned from the touchline) as they take on West Bromwich Albion in the final league game of 2012-13 season. The game in itself is of barely any importance to either team with United having wrapped up their 20th league title almost a month back and the hosts sitting comfortably in the top half of the table.
The hosts have performed beyond expectations this season under new manager Steve Clarke and have already amassed their highest points tally in Premier League history. With the Baggies presently occupying the 8th spot in the table, even if Swansea City overtake them, they are still assured of their best finishing position in top division football since 1980-81 season. The season could have been even better for the Baggies but for their late season dip in the form that has seen them pick up only one win in the last eight games and lose their last three. Last weekend at Norwich City, West Brom succumbed to a 4-0 reversal – their heaviest defeat of the season.
For the visitors, this game is all about the man who will take charge of them for one last time in his long and illustrious career. Last Sunday, in his final Old Trafford game, Sir Alex did a decent job of keeping his emotions under control but it will be fascinating to see how he reacts when the final whistle goes on Sunday bringing the curtains down on what has been surely the most extraordinary managerial performance of the modern era. The match also marks the end of another glittering career, that of Paul Scholes. Rio Ferdinand’s late strike ensured a winning climax at home last weekend and Manchester United players should be determined to provide a similar finale befitting the great man’s reign. A win will also mean United ending the season with 91 points which will match their highest ever tally in Premier League history achieved in 2000-01.
Team News & Tactical Brief
West Bromwich Albion
West Brom will be definitely without the services of Zolton Gera and George Thorne (both knee) while Steven Reid is a doubt after picking up a knock last weekend. On the brighter side, Marc –Antoine Fortune is available again after completion of his three game ban for a red card against Southampton.
Clarke has tried his hand at a number of different formations in recent weeks and it is hard to predict what he will have in locker for Sunday’s game. Given the Baggies are up against the might of Manchester United, the sensible option might be to play an extra man in centre of midfield in a 4-3-3 setup. Former United goalkeeper Ben Foster committed an absolute howler against Norwich last weekend but will still be favourite to start in goal. Gareth McAuley, whose own goal set United on their way to a 2-0 win in the reverse fixture, and Jonas Olsson are the first choice centre back pairing while Goran Popov and Steven Reid, fitness permitting, will start at full back positions. In midfield, both Claudio Yacob and Youssouf Mulumbu have been impressive this season and will like to end the season on a high by putting in a commanding display against the champions. Should Clarke opt for a 3 man central midfield, James Morrison should be in line for a start. Romelu Lukaku, who has been arguably West Brom’s player of the season, will lead the line with Shane Long and possibly, Chris Brunt on the flanks.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-3-3): Foster; Reid, McAuley, Olsson, Popov; Yacob, Mulumbu, Morrison; Long, Lukaku, Brunt
In his last ever managerial assignment, Sir Alex has no fresh injuries to bother about. Chris Smalling and Ashley Young remain on the sidelines while Rafael’s red card two weeks ago against Chelsea means he will miss out. There has not been any change in Wayne Rooney situation in the past week; so the striker seems set to be left out of the matchday squad yet again.
It is difficult to see Sir Alex in his last match opting for anything apart from the standard 4-4-2 formation that has served him so well over the years. In his pre-match conference, Ferguson confirmed that Anders Lindegaard will start and he plans to play Jonny Evans and Phil Jones in the centre of defense. That would mean Antonio Valencia playing at right back, a position that is not too unfamiliar to him. At left back, Patrice Evra may be given a well-deserved break with Alexander Buttner deputizing. Paul Scholes is surely in line for what will be his final start and will partner probably Michael Carrick. Shinji Kagawa and Nani are favourites for the wide roles while Robin van Persie and Javier Hernandez may get the nod upfront.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-4-2): Lindegaard; Valencia, Evans, Jones, Buttner; Nani, Carrick, Scholes, Kagawa; van Persie, Hernandez
- West Bromwich Albion are still searching for their first victory over Manchester United in Premier League after 13 failed attempts.
- Wayne Rooney has scored 5 goals in his last 5 games against West Brom.
- If United win, they would equal Chelsea’s record of 29 league victories in Premier League set in 2004-05.
Man To Watch
Robin van Persie (Manchester United)
The Dutchman has had a dream debut season for United and is set to be crowned with the Premier League Golden Boot for the second season running. A goal or two on Sunday will be a fitting way to cap off the campaign.
West Brom 0-2 Manchester United
It probably will not be a classic, but expect Manchester United to still show enough class to win comfortably on Sir Alex’s swansong.