West Bromwich Albion
Saturday, 2 May 2015 1630 UTC
After a torrid time on the road, Manchester United return home as they host West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford. After having won against Tottenham, Manchester City and Liverpool, the dream run came to an abrupt end at the home of champions elect, Chelsea. Goodison Park was no better as the club crashed to a pathetic 3-0 performance that was peppered with schoolboy errors. West Brom sit 13th in the table and are practically safe from the drop zone. With top flight football assured next season, Tony Pulis has managed to marshal his troops to produce a few good results this year. The home draw against Liverpool would also give the Baggies a lot of confidence when they travel to Manchester for their game.
Team News and Predicted Lineup
United’s downturn in form coincides with injuries to key players – Michael Carrick, Daley Blind, Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo. All four of these players missed the game at Stamford Bridge and only Blind returned for the Everton game. Carrick was probably the most missed player in the midfield and his absence was a telling blow to United’s fluidity from the previous game. Rooney and Blind who tried to fill his role fell quite short of the mark and United would be hoping that Carrick clears his late medical exam prior to the game on Saturday, as is widely expected. Carrick’s absence had a couple of profound impacts. The first one was in defence. Carrick’s distribution skills allow the United back four to play a high line creating a compact formation as well as springing into attack instantaneously. Carrick’s absence was exacerbated by the absence of Jones, Blind, and Rojo and only Valencia being the common factor in defense between the City and Chelsea games. Defense looked incoherent and easily penetrable and the last goal they conceded against Everton had the defense standing still waiting for the referee to blow for offside when there was none. A juvenile performance by all means. LvG would be eager to brush off these errors and get back to winning ways especially because the back to back losses have put United squarely back into the rat race for Champions League football.
The second impact of Carrick’s absence has been on Fellaini. Without Carrick’s carefully crafted through balls, both Chelsea and Everton were able to mark him out of the game. United’s positive play over the last couple of months has been courtesy Fellaini up the pitch and without good supply the Belgian is just a glorified tackler playing upfield. As though on cue, Mata has gone off the boil as well after splendid performances against arch rivals Liverpool and City.
For Saturday’s home game, van Gaal has confirmed that Rooney and Phil Jones would be available for selection while Carrick is still injured. In the interim, Luke Shaw has again picked up a groin injury while Johnny Evans, who had been suspended for the last six weeks, has managed to pick up an injury just when he was available for selection post his suspension. Phil Jones might still have to clear a pre match fitness test but it should be some relief to United that he may be available for selection.
Elsewhere, Robin van Persie is on the cusp of first team football after having played and scored in United’s last two U21 matches. LvG may be tempted to bring him back into the side and move Rooney into midfield. Angel di Maria is another illustrious name consigned to the bench for now but he has not done enough in the short stints he has got as a substitute in the last few games to earn a starting spot.
Predicted Lineup (4-2-3-1): de Gea; Young, Jones, Smalling, Valencia; Blind, Herrera; Rooney, Fellaini, Mata; van Persie
West Bromwich Albion
Tony Pulis unlike his counterpart has the luxury of being able to choose from a fully fit squad. Ever since his arrival at The Hawthorns, Pulis has changed things around. Unlike his predecessor Alan Irvine who believed in all out attack, Pulis has begun to build a more resolute defensive unit with the capability to attack directly and swiftly. One of the keystones of his success has been the ability to play three natural centre backs – Joleon Lescott, Gareth McAuley and Craig Dawson – in defense. Dawson has in fact been solid at right back for the Baggies and midfielder Chris Brunt has been converted to a left back with pretty impressive results. Pulis has started the same back 4 in 8 of his last 10 games with good success and there doesn’t seem to be any need to change that now.
Another success story of Pulis’ regime has been Argentinian midfielder Claudio Yacob. Reduced to a bit part role under Irvine, Yacob has been given regular starts under Pulis and has rewarded the manager’s confidence in him by maintaining tight control of the ship playing in front of the back four. Ex United midfielder Darren Fletcher, Craig Gardner, and James Morrison complete the midfield quartet that is experienced and hard working. With United looking to play the possession game once again, these four possess the necessary skills to tuck in and chase the ball. Liverpool boasted 73% possession against the Baggies last week but had no goals to show for it, and Pulis would consider it a job well done if they could frustrate United similarly on Saturday.
One of West Brom’s major weaknesses is lack of pace in defense and United will look to exploit this via their new system of playing in passing triangles. Swift passing with intelligent angles might be the key to unlock the white wall that United will run up against every time they go on the attack on Saturday.
Probable XI(4-1-3-2): Myhill; Brunt, Lescott, McAuley, Dawson; Yacob; Morrison, Fletcher, Gardner; Berahino, Anichebe
- Wayne Rooney has scored in each of his last six Barclays Premier League starts against West Bromwich Albion
- West Brom have won only one of their last 21 league matches against Manchester United (W1 D4 L16), at Old Trafford
- West Brom have the highest percentage of goals from set-pieces in the top flight in 2014/15
Manchester United 3 West Brom 1
Manchester United will definitely start the game as favourites as they return to home turf after two gameweeks and that too in a poor mood after the double defeats on the road. West Brom would do well to hang on and not lose by a bad margin and an unlikely draw would definitely feel like a bonus point to Tony Pulis and his side.
Players to watch out for
United’s captain is unarguably their most crucial player. He can play in a variety of positions and he brings a lot of commitment and motivation to the side. In the absence of Carrick’s calming presence in midfield, Rooney was required against West Brom and one can sense the relief in van Gaal’s comments after he announced that Rooney was fit to start this weekend.