West Bromwich Albion welcome Manchester United to the Hawthorns on Saturday in the day’s early kick-off. After a brief break for a midweek international fixture, the Premier League again takes centre stage for both teams’ players. West Brom head into the game without a win in seven Premier League games. The Baggies’ new manager Pepe Mel is yet to taste victory in charge, which has seen them drop to 17th in the table and only one point above Sunderland in 18th. Manchester United have not played a fixture since their 2-0 loss to Olympiacos in the Champions League. The result was a disappointing one for David Moyes and his team and they will want to bounce back immediately. Their last Premier League game ended in a 2-0 victory against Crystal Palace, another team fighting relegation. United will believe that they have the quality to get a similar result at the Hawthorns on Saturday lunchtime.
West Brom have had a few injury problems in the last few weeks, but some should clear up going into the game. Diego Lugano is definitely out with a knee injury. Full back Billy Jones will also miss the game with a hamstring problem. Claudio Yacob and Stephane Sessegnon should both return after hamstring and groin injuries respectively. Nicolas Anelka is suspended.
Manchester United will definitely be without Javier Hernandez (Knee), Phil Jones (Thigh) and Nani (Hamstring). Jonny Evans and Rafael should be fit to return to the squad. Evans had been suffering with a calf injury and Rafael had sustained concussion.
In September when the two teams last met, West Brom managed to get a famous victory over United at Old Trafford. The Baggies managed to get their first win at Old Trafford since Dec 1978 with Saido Berahino scoring the famous winner. The last time the teams met at the Hawthorns was the last day of last season. It was Sir Alex Ferguson’s final game in charge of United and ended 5-5. This was the first 5-5 draw Sir Alex ever had in his tenure in charge at United. West Brom’s win in the last fixture between the two teams was their first Premier League victory over United. Before that, West Brom had lost 11 and drawn 3 of their previous 14 Premier League games against the Red Devils. Ryan Giggs appeared in the first Premier League meeting of the teams 12 years ago. He is the only player in either squad who still remains.
Thievy Bifouma or just Thievy as he is known, was the only signing that new Baggies manager Pepe Mel was able to bring in on transfer deadline day. The Frenchman was brought in on loan from Espanyol to aid the Baggies’ bid against relegation. Before arriving at West Brom he had managed 3 goals in 11 matches for Espanyol. In his first game for West Brom, he came off the bench to score with his first touch. With Shane Long having left the club and Nicolas Anelka suspended, Victor Anichebe, Thievy and Saido Berahino will have more goal scoring responsibility for the Baggies. In his three games so far, Thievy has had 5 successful dribbles from a total of 8, showing his trickery. He has only had two shots but both have been on target including the one goal he scored. If he can continue this ratio and have more attempts on goal, he could become valuable in this final stage of the season.
Wayne Rooney has had a good season for United. When fit, the England forward has been the one positive out of a mostly poor season for United. Rooney has scored 10 goals this season, with a record of one every 185 minutes. Although he is scoring a goal just over every two games, Rooney has also provided 9 assists for his team mates. Being involved in 19 goals is what has made Rooney so important for his team this season. Rooney scored United’s goal in their defeat to West Brom earlier in the season, and he will want to get on the score sheet again, especially this Saturday lunchtime. Rooney ended a five game spell without a goal against in the Premier League against Crystal Palace in United’s last game. After signing a new contract, he will be integral in the next few years at United and will need to continue his good form this season until the end of the season and throughout the World Cup this summer.
It is sure to be a good game to open up this round of Premier League fixtures. It is unlikely that there will be a repeat of the 5-5 draw in the corresponding fixture last year, but both teams need the points. West Brom need a win to put some breathing space between themselves and the relegation spots. United will not want to give up hope of a Champions League place, and will need to win as many games as possible to be in with a shout. United should be too strong for the Baggies and I predict a 2-0 win for this fixture.