MANCHESTER UNITEDv/s WEST BROMWICH ALBION
BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE
VENUE – Old Trafford (Capacity – 75,811)
KO – 1500 GMT
REFEREE – Andy Garrat
It is getting a bit old now. Manchester United made yet another comeback this season and Newcastle was on the receiving end this time. The Magpies led thrice and yet managed to lose the game. Ferguson and his men have been heart attacks to the fans all season. Manchester United are on top of the league table and are 7 points clear of Manchester City who lost against Sunderland on boxing day. The Red Devils face West Bromwich Albion who have built on the 10th position last season. Steve Clarke since taking over the reins at the club has done a wonderful job. He has continued the good work done by Roy Hodgson and has taken it a notch further. His side faces a stern test away from home. The league leaders as well as the top scorers in the league, Clarke’s team has a huge task ahead of them.
The comeback kings again were at their resilient best against Newcastle. Three times the Magpies led and three they were pegged back. Javier Hernandez, the second coming of Ole Gunner Solskjaer showed exactly why he is compared with the Norwegian legend. The defensive lapses were hidden amidst the victory but the manager will have to look at his defense. It is only the midpoint of the season and Manchester United has conceded nearly 30 goals in the league. For a team at the top of the league and about to face Real Madrid in the coming months, that is a worrying statistic. Scholes and Giggs in midfield was a mismatch. Both of them had a terrible first half whilst in the second Giggs had a much better outing. Nani’s injury or his differences with the manager is definitely hurting the team. Valencia is having a nightmarish season and Young is not very consistent. One more thing that got pushed down is the fact that Evra is back to his old poor ways. Yes, he scored but he was responsible for a couple of Newcastle goals and Danny Simpson, the Newcastle full back ran havoc. Sir Alex Ferguson needs to sort out his defense more than anything else because not every time his team can pull off a stunning comeback.
After a great start to the season, Albion lost their way with three back to the back defeats. They have come back strong with two wins on the trot. Lukaku was signed on-loan from Chelsea at the start of the season. Clarke, the Albion manager watched the Belgian at close quarters when he was part of the coaching staff at Chelsea. The Belgian striker has been in great form this season. He has already scored 6 goals this season and along with Shane Long has formed a good partnership. They face Manchester United at Old Trafford which is a tough prospect. Albion’s away form has been wretched to say the least. 4 losses and 3 wins out of 9 games in not very good. Not a single clean sheet away from home and with the kind of world class strike force United possess Clarke needs to sort out his team or else they could be in for a hammering. They may not have been at their best away from home but being in 6th position league is not easy and they are a tough nut to crack. The likes of Zoltan Gera, ex-United man Foster and the others will need to use all their experience if they team is come out of Old Trafford with any positive result.
Manchester United – Wayne Rooney sustained an injury in training before the Newcastle and he is likely to miss the festive period fixtures. Javier Hernandez who scored the winner against injury time will partner Persie. Danny Welbeck missed the game on Boxing Day due to illness likely to start on the bench, if fit. United’s defensive problems on the injury may have been solved but conceding 3 against Newcastle showcased the big hole in United’s defense. Vidic is likely to start alongside Evans with Ferdinand missing out. Rafael, first choice right back might return to the return after recovering from injury. Evra will continue at left back. Nani’s injury prevents Sir Alex Ferguson to make any sort of changes to his wingers if a 4-4-2 formation is deployed. Young’s injury meant Giggs started on the left wing and he had a terrible first half before recovering in the second. Antonio Valencia, thus far has had an average season and his performances in the recent matches has been way below par. Scholes and Carrick started in the centre of midfield but it is clear that Carrick, by far the best midfielder this season excels with Tom Cleverly. With Fletcher also in the mix the manager may give Carrick a breather.
West Bromwich Albion – Ben Foster or Boaz Myhill, this has been one of the biggest conundrums for Steve Clarke. Both the keepers are extremely good and have proved themselves when given the chance. Being a former United player, Foster might just get the nod ahead of Myhill. Olsson and McAuley are the preferred central defensive partnership. The Swedish international will need to be at his best if Albion are to stand a chance in the game. Popov replaced Ridgewell against QPR but picked up a hamstring injury which may rule him out of this game. Billy Jones seems to have made the right back spot his own and will start against United. Being an away game, Clarke might want to take a safety first approach and opt for a 4-5-1 formation with Lukaku on the bench and Gera upfront on his own. Morrison and Mulumbu may have to share their midfield duties with Dorrans as Clarke will look to have an extra midfielder to combat the United strike force. Brunt and Fortune will be the wings looking to provide width and support the forwards upfront.
Manchester United – Nemanja Vidic– The returning Serbian is not very high on the list of players capable of changing the game but his no nonsen se solidarity is the need of the hour rather than ball playing of Evans or Ferdinand. The United captain offers a monster figure in the defense which is clearly needed for the league leaders. They have been leaking goals for fun this season and eventually it will bite them. Vidic, will have to play important role, not only in the match but also in the remainder of the season.
West Bromwich Albion – James Morrison – The young midfielder will face one of his toughest challenges in his career when he squares up against the likes of Scholes, Carrick, Cleverly. He has shown this season that he has temperament and the cool headedness that a player needs at this level. He runs the midfield alongside Mulumbu and will be extremely important for the visitors. His performances will go a long way in deciding as to how positive a result Albion are able to achieve.
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