Old Trafford, Manchester
Saturday 07 November 2015 1500 hours
Manchester United play host to West Brom on Saturday after having gotten a huge monkey off their backs –the monkey of going four games in all competitions without scoring, a dubious record unprecedented in the cluba s history. Wayne Rooneya s goal on Tuesday against CSKA Moscow in their Champions League group fixture ended his and the cluba s goal drought and catapulted them into first position in their group. West Brom, on the other hand, have had a fairly successful season so far on the road and they have few reasons to worry when they make their trip up north.
Team News, Tactics and Predicted Lineup
Louis van Gaala s team selection and tactics have been under fire from media and fans alike. Rooneya s continued presence in the starting 11 despite a lack of goals, Depaya s continued relegation to the bench, Martiala s deployment on the wings have all come under question. Rooneya s goal and Uniteda s subsequent win on Tuesday may have only momentarily halted this onslaught on the manager, but it should be enough to give his wards some confidence and him some leeway for the next game which is also at home.
While Uniteda s failure to convert goals has been grabbing all the headlines, their defensive efforts have gone largely unnoticed. United have been the most frugal side defensively in the league, conceding only 8 goals and in the process, keeping 7 clean sheets in 11 games played hitherto. The most impressive of those clean sheets has to be against Manchester City where De Gea was hardly tested, as Uniteda s outfield players orchestrated and controlled the game sufficiently to snuff out any City attacks in the bud. Smalling has been the orchestrator-in-chief of this defensive effort as he seems to be going from strength to strength with every game. In fact, it was Smallinga s sliding last-gasp block from off the goal line, that prevented CSKA from breaking the deadlock on Tuesday. But for his efforts, the game would have been another 1-1 draw, and that is assuming United would have scored nevertheless after going a goal down. Smalling has however been unfortunate to not have a consistent defensive partner with whom he can build an understanding and a partnership like the Rio-Vidic pair of yore. In the game on Tuesday he partnered Daley Blind with Rojo and Young manning the wider defensive positions. Luke Shawa s long term injury stretches Uniteda s full back reserves, when in fact there arena t any. Darmian is more of an in-today-out-today player and is yet to find consistency enough to hold down a starting spot. That said, he may return to the side to replace Young after Rojo did a decent job on the left flank in a defensive role.
In midfield, United seem fairly in control when Schweinsteiger or Carrick are playing. Against CSKA both players were on the field and while their passing vision is unquestionable, it did make the play a bit unidimensional. Schneiderlin would most probably return to the starting lineup to replace Carrick. Lingard, who played on the left on Tuesday showed a lot of eagerness to get to the ball, though his final product was found lacking more than once a except for a sublime one touch pass that set up Rooneya s headed goal. He is in direct competition for this position with Memphis Depay, who seems to have fallen out of LvGa s graces. Depaya s indifferent performance on Tuesday as a substitute did not help his cause and it is unlikely that he will be swapped on the bench with Lingard. On the right, Mata had a fairly pedestrian game by his own standards, as he was kept out of the match for long periods. It may be time to rest Mata for a game and let Herrera take his place on the right. Rooney played in the hole behind the striker and looked much more relaxed without the pressure of scoring. Eventually he did score the winning goal, and with LvG having previously mentioned the playera s a captain privilegesa , Rooney should keep his starting position as well, starting behind young striker Anthony Martial who has been a thorn in the side of Uniteda s opponents.
Tactically, United seem to be more inclined as well as setup to play a possession based game. The need is to quicken the tempo of the passing and use the full width of the pitch. In the previous few games, Uniteda s lethargy in moving the ball across or up the pitch has allowed their opponents to regroup and put bodies in front of their goal thus negating any counter attacks that may be possible. United would need to pass quicker to take advantage of momentary weakness when the opposing team has personnel up the pitch looking for a goal or supporting a play.
Predicted XI (4-2-3-1): de Gea; Rojo, Blind, Smalling, Darmian; Schneiderlin, Schweinsteiger; Lingard, Rooney, Herrera; Martial
The Baggies make the trip to Old Trafford after crashing to a home loss to high flying Leicester City. They are firmly in the middle of the table and have baffled many pundits with the unconventional disparity between their home and away records this season. They have won only 1 and lost 4 of their 6 home games this season, while winning 3 and losing just 1 match on the road. That away defeat was to Crystal Palace, and this should give United some headaches to deal with, even though United have an impressive home record this season winning 3 and drawing 2 of their 5 home games so far. Only Liverpool have scored the solitary goal at Old Trafford by a visiting side this season.
Tony Pulis seems to have settled into a starting lineup that he trusts to get the job done. His side will be rested and ready for the game at Old Trafford unlike their opponents on Saturday who had a mid week European fixture. The players are building a rhythm now and it is evident from their play, especially away from home where they maintain a good defensive shape to hold the home side and try to capitalise on the break. Ex-United midfielder Darren Fletcher will captain his side at his old home. He has been a midfield orchestrator controlling the tempo for the Baggies and providing them with the supply to attack on the break. He will be joined on the pitch by another United alumnus, Jonny Evans, who will return to Old Trafford for the first time since his move to the Hawthorns last summer.
From a tactical point of view, West Brom need to hold their formation and position. As has been demonstrated by multiple sides over the past few weeks, United are playing more number of side and back passes with fewer passes up the pitch. If West Brom can only hold their formation and play the offside trap, it will put pressure on United and prevent Martial from running off the shoulder of the last defender into open space with the ball. Also, Uniteda s slow passing tempo might play in West Broma s favour, as it will afford them some more time to get in position to defend from the attack.
Probable XI (4-4-2): Myhill; Brunt, Evans, McAuley, Dawson; McClean, Fletcher, Yacob, Sessegnon; RondA?n, Berahino
Key Match Facts
- United have not lost at home this season. The only goal they have conceded was against Liverpool. With 8 goals scored and 7 clean sheets in 11 games, they have the best defensive record in the Premier League this season.
- Manchester United have lost just one of their last 13 Premier League matches at Old Trafford (W9 D3 L1), but that defeat was against West Brom.
- West Brom have 10 points from a maximum 15 available from away games this season.
- Only Crystal Palace has been able to score against West Brom while traveling this season. That was the 0-2 loss that the Baggies suffered.
- West Brom have lost just one of their last five league matches against Manchester United winning 2 and drawing 2. Those two victories have come in their last two trips to Old Trafford.
Manchester United 1 West Brom 0
Old Trafford is slowly but steadily returning to the fortress that it was under Sir Alex, as LvG has chosen to fix his defense first. West Brom were the last PL side to win on this ground and they may find it difficult to emulate that feat from May last season. At the same time, United themselves have been wasteful in front of goal, sometimes even struggling to get a shot on target. This profligacy has cost them points and caused them to suffer a League Cup exit in the last few games as well. It is the sheer difference in ability between the two sides that hints that United may be able to grind out a result, albeit with a single goal to show for it.
Players to watch out for
Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
The United captain has come under a lot of fire from all quarters, as many clamoured for him to be put on the bench after a run of 9 games without scoring. He has pulled one back by heading home from a Lingard cross against CSKA Moscow, but the battle is not won yet. Rooney looked much better playing behind Martial as striker as he linked up play well and got into good positions throughout the game on Tuesday. The goal was the icing on the cake in what was one of his best performances on the pitch over the last couple of months. The goal might also be what sets Rooney free. For a goalscorer like Rooney, a long goal drought can be psychologically damaging, affecting other aspects of his game too. West Brom would do well to be careful because if Rooney has broken the shackles, he will be a very dangerous player to handle, especially since he knows the playing style of two key West Brom players — Fletcher and Evans — inside out.