The International break is over at last and football as we know it resumes this weekend. At Old Trafford, where Manchester United host a high-flying West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, is probably where it is at.
United have been in pretty impressive form over a long period of time. Having secured a place in the quarter-final of the Europa League, the Red Devils are in with a genuine chance to finish top four, after their most recent win in the Premier League saw them climb the league table up to fifth, now only four points below fourth placed Liverpool having played two fewer games than their arch rivals. They have already equaled their longest unbeaten run in the league (18) in their 2012/13 title winning season in Jose Mourinho’s first season and will be looking to capitalise on another week when four of their rivals for top four play against each other.
West Bromwich Albion may have not won away from home in the league since the turn of new year but the mood at the Hawthorns, on the back of an impressive win against Arsenal, could not be any more positive. Having picked up only 2 out of a possible 12 points from their last four outings on the road, Tony Pulis will be aiming to improve on that by reverting to type at Old Trafford where the Midlands club have been victorious in two of the last three occasions. It will be interesting to see if the visiting team, boosted by ex-Man United academy products Jonny Evans and Darren Fletcher, could plot a surprise win against their boyhood club on Saturday.
Mourinho confirmed on Wednesday that he is set to be without five players – Paul Pogba, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling through injury, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ander Herrera sit out the final game of their respective suspensions. However, Wayne Rooney and Daley Blind are expected to be in contention for Saturday’s encounter.
For the Baggies, Matt Phillips (hamstring) and Gareth McAuley are both doubtful to feature but apart from the duo, Tony Pulis will have a strong squad to choose from.
- There have been under 2.5 goals scored in 9 of Man Utd‘s last 11 home games (Premier League).
- Only one side has scored in five of the last six meetings between the two sides.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan – Manchester United
Ever since Mkhitaryan was properly restored in the starting line-up – Man United have been more prolific in terms of chance creation.
The Armenian is one of the most efficient attacking midfielders in Europe, let alone England – and with the onus often placed too heavily on Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the lack of goal return when the Swede is not at his best seems to have had the greatest impact on their league position. The 27-year old is going to have to take over the mantle of adding more goals, starting this weekend, if United were to make further progress in the league alongside Europe.
Salomon Rondon – West Bromwich Albion
Rondon has had a good campaign for West Brom, scoring 7 and creating 2 in 26 starts under Tony Pulis. But he has had a bit of a dip in form, having drawn blanks in each of his 13 appearances since his hat-trick against Swansea City in mid-December.
With West Brom clearly expected to set-up primarily to avoid conceding, the 27-year old will have to be patient and alert to any breakaway chance he might be expected to put away. Also, with United thin on defensive reinforcements, Rondon will hold the key to Albion pulling off their first away win in 2017 – by maximum utilization of set pieces, which clearly is their cup of tea.
This fixture has all the makings of a frustrating home draw masterminded by Tony Pulis. But I think United have finally started to win games without playing particularly well and expect that trend to continue on Saturday.
Manchester United 2-1 West Bromwich Albion