After having won their first game against a top six side this season before the international break, the Baggies face another this weekend as they visit Old Trafford to take on José Mourinho’s Manchester United.
Albion have, in fact, picked up more Premier League points against United at Old Trafford than they have at the Hawthorns. Last season’s win over Van Gaal’s team at the Hawthorns was the Baggies’ first home victory against the Red Devils in the Premier League, whereas they have triumphed twice at the Theatre of Dreams.
The first of those games saw Saido Berahino announce himself to the footballing world as he scored the winner in a 2-1 win in September 2013, while a Jonas Olsson goal secured the points two seasons later. Since Albion’s last game, the Swede has left the Hawthorns after nine years to join Djurgårdens in his home country. Olsson was a fantastic servant for the Baggies and, while he has struggled in the past year or so, his steadfast performances over the years established him as a fans’ favourite averaging more than 32 league starts in his first six seasons with the club. This always looked like it would be his last season, but he leaves with the good wishes and thanks of the Albion faithful.
Last time out, the Baggies proved that they hadn’t downed tools for the season with an excellent performance against Arsenal, while Tony Pulis did indeed change his approach as Albion attacked their visitors when possible without losing their defensive solidity. Wenger’s side may have dominated possession, but it was Albion that had the better chances, more chances and eventually ran out deserved winners.
A win over a struggling Arsenal at the Hawthorns is one thing, but to repeat that over a Manchester United team that are unbeaten in the Premier League since October is an entirely different prospect. However, Bournemouth were the last visitors to Old Trafford in the Premier League and left with a point, so the game should not be approached as a lost cause.
Albion’s chances will be improved with the fact that United will be without their talisman, Zlatan Ibrahimović, who will serve the last of his three game suspension received following his elbow on Tyrone Mings in that match against the Cherries, and Ander Herrera who will complete a two match ban this weekend after being sent off twice this season. Furthermore, Mourinho’s squad is further depleted with world record signing, Paul Pogba, almost certain to miss the game with a hamstring injury while the England duo of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones returned from the international break injured. Wayne Rooney and Mourane Fellaini are also struggling to be fit to face the Baggies.
Tony Pulis, on the other hand, has a largely fit squad to choose from, although the fitness of Matt Phillips continues to be a concern and Naceur Chadli faces a late fitness test. Salomón Rondón is yet to be assessed following his return from south America, where he finally ended his barren scoring run. He found the net for Venezuela with a neat header in a 3-1 defeat to Chile on Tuesday evening. The result means that Venezuela cannot now qualify for the World Cup in Russia next summer, but Rondón’s disappointment will surely be tempered with the knowledge that his 15-game scoreless streak is over.
Hal Robson-Kanu came off the bench and made a massive difference against Arsenal, scoring his first home goal for the Baggies, but he failed to make an impression for his national team against Ireland on Friday evening and was withdrawn part way through the second half. Meanwhile, his Baggies team mate, James McClean, put in a man of the match performance for the opposition in the goalless draw that will be remembered for Séamus Coleman’s horrific injury, and also started the friendly on Tuesday evening that saw the Irish teams 15-game unbeaten record at home come to an end as Iceland won 1-0.
In other international news, the trio of Gareth McAuley, Jonny Evans and Chris Brunt all played for Northern Ireland on Sunday evening in their 2-0 win over Norway while Jake Livermore became the first Baggie to play outfield for England since 1984 when he played against Germany in Dortmund last week.
Since the 5-5 draw in Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign, a point that was Albion’s third against United in the Scotsman’s tenure, the Baggies have picked up ten points in seven games against Saturday’s opponents. However, Mourinho has got United playing well and they are a very different proposition to the side they were under either Moyes or Van Gall as they proved in their 2-0 win at the Hawthorns in December and, as I indicated earlier, they are on an 18-match unbeaten run in the League.
If Pulis adopts a similar approach to that against Arsenal a fortnight ago, the Baggies will have a chance to get something, particularly with key players missing for United, but I see this one finishing in a narrow victory for the hosts.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
17 Dec 2016 – Premier League
West Brom 0
Manchester United 2 (Ibrahimović (2))
Last meeting at Manchester United
7 Nov 2015 – Premier League
Manchester United 2 (Lingard, Mata (pen))
West Brom 0
6 Mar 2016 – Premier League
West Brom 1 (Rondón)
Manchester United 0
Last win at Manchester United
2 May 2015 – Premier League
Manchester United 0
West Brom 1 (Olsson)
Albion’s Record against Manchester United
|Premier League Record|