Wayne Rooney strikes at goal for Manchester United against WBA last season
Manchester United take on West Bromwich Albion for the 121st time at Old Trafford on Saturday. United come into the game following an epic 4-3 victory over Newcastle United on boxing day, whilst WBA beat QPR 2-1 at Loftus Road. United beat WBA 2-0 at Old Trafford last season, with two goals from Wayne Rooney, who is set to miss the next three weeks through injury. Here we take a look at current form, injuries, a potential United line up for the match and a superb view from the opposition.
WBA last won at Old Trafford in 1978/79, beating United 5-3 with a side managed by Ron Atkinson which included a young Bryan Robson. Since then, West Brom have picked up three draws and lost ten times (in the league) at Old Trafford.
A view from the opposition
WHAT HAVE YOU MADE OF WBA SO FAR THIS SEASON?
It’s been a fantastic season so far. Many supporters- myself included- had reservations about the appointment of Steve Clarke, we’re solvent and had secured successive mid-table finishes, why take a risk on somebody with a track record in coaching, but no experience as a Manager/Head Coach?
Yet the transition from Roy Hodgson’s reign has been seamless, there have arguably been some improvements. I don’t think you’ll find many people who watch us every week that will argue we don’t deserve our place amongst the country’s elite at the moment.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON STEVE CLARKE’S STYLE?
Roy Hodgson’s success was built on the foundations of two solid, compact banks of four (sometimes a midfield five), we were always difficult to break down and very rarely got hammered but there was often a sense of restricting the opposition as much as expressing ourselves. Those solid foundations are still very much in evidence- you may find we’ll be happy to let you have the ball in certain areas- but there is a greater sense of freedom and purpose amongst our attacking players when we do get it.
We’ve been very effective on the counter attack- something teams seem to have been more reluctant to let us do in recent games- and Clarke’s style arguably lends itself to the natural attacking instincts of the likes of James Morrison, Chris Brunt, Peter Odemwingie and Shane Long slightly more than Roy Hodgson’s did.
IF YOU HAD TO GIVE HIM ANY ADVICE, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
I’m not sure I could give him any advice, more or less everything he’s done has turned to gold so far. I’d perhaps advise him to stay at West Brom for a long time!
WHERE DO YOU EXPECT TO FINISH THIS SEASON?
Remaining in the top-seven would be a remarkable achievement when you consider Albion’s resources compared to those around us. Whilst most Albion supporters are allowing themselves to dream a little, I think that most, realistically, would see another top-half finish as an excellent return.
ROMELU LUKAKU HAS BEEN A GREAT SIGNING, WILL HE BE BACK AT CHELSEA NEXT MONTH?
He seems to think not and there has been no suggestion from Chelsea to the contrary. However with Chelsea having one senior striker and still competing in three competitions, I’d be amazed if they weren’t looking to increase numbers in that position as quickly as possible.
As a side-issue, I’d argue that Lukaku’s contribution to our season- whilst impressive in patches- is perhaps exaggerated by aspects of the national media because of Chelsea’s predicament. This is only a personal opinion, but I’d argue Albion function better as a side with Shane Long and not Lukaku leading the line. That’s not of course to say we wouldn’t be disappointed if he was recalled, he certainly increases our options upfront.
WHO HAS BEEN YOUR BEST PERFORMER THIS SEASON?
That’s a tough question as any number of players could lay claim to that. Midfielder Claudio Yacob’s contribution has been tremendous since joining in the summer; Youssuf Mulumbu has been as imperious as ever alongside him- this is the area of the pitch we are at our strongest. The team doesn’t function in the same way without the warrior-like Jonas Olsson and Gareth McAuley marshalling the back four. Shane Long has been outstanding leading the line and would get my vote, although many fans would pick James Morrison, whose evolution from the young lad we picked up years ago has been a pleasure to watch.
WBA ARE FLYING THE FLAG FOR FOOTBALL IN THE MIDLANDS. WHY ARE MIDLANDS CLUBS SUFFERING AT THE MOMENT?
Various reasons I think. The West Midlands has a vastly different spread of support to the North-West. The traditional red-blue debate you’ll get in most Trafford Park factories will be an Albion-Villa-Blues-Wolves debate down here, for that reason I’m not sure the Midlands will ever have a ‘superclub’ in the way that Manchester and Liverpool does.
Aside from that I’d say Villa still have a hangover from the O’Neill era. In an attempt to balance the books they’ve sold the likes of Barry, Milner, Young and Downing and replaced them in large parts with youngsters which is difficult at this level (United in the 90’s aside of course!!). Birmingham have been managed badly and are struggling to get over an unexpected relegation with a few players still earning big money. Wolves made a cock-up of the McCarthy sacking, vowing to replace him with a big name (too late many fans argued) and eventually replaced him with his assistant and got relegated. They’ve since seemingly tried to completely overhaul their on-the-field approach very quickly and suffered.
Albion seem to be the exception, we’ve built steadily over a number of years, spending within our means and pulling off some fantastic acquisitions along the way- our starting XI tomorrow will probably have cost around £15m in transfer fees. Chairman Jeremy Peace and the departing Sporting and Technical Director Dan Ashworth have been instrumental in that.
WHAT HAVE YOU MADE OF UNITED THIS SEASON AND THE AMOUNT OF GOALS LEAKED?
I can’t profess to give any sort of expert opinion on this. From an outsider looking in, I’d say United’s midfield doesn’t seem to have the same level of dominance and control it might have had a decade ago; you always know you’ll get a chance and spells of possession against this United side. The unfortunate thing is that your front players are now that devastating that scoring against you is perhaps akin to starting a fight with a sleeping polar bear with only your bare hands!!
IF YOU COULD TAKE A UNITED PLAYER TO WBA WHO WOULD YOU TAKE?
On current form it’s difficult to look past Robin Van Persie, who has been in devastating form. The United player I most admire is Paul Scholes, I’d pay to watch him all day long.
WHAT IS YOUR BEST MEMORY OF WBA VS MANCHESTER UNITED?
As a mere 31-year-old I don’t have a colourful selection to choose from. Perhaps drawing 1-1 at Old Trafford when Robert Earnshaw scored a penalty that probably wasn’t a penalty, that point was crucial as a week later we secured our Premier League status in what’s now become known as ‘The Great Escape’. The 2-2 draw a couple of years ago wasn’t bad either, although I missed three of the goals!!
If you ask any Albion supporter slightly older than me, they’ll undoubtedly talk about Albion’s 5-3 win at Old Trafford in December 1978. Still spoken about as one of the greatest games ever and perhaps the catalyst behind United later-appointing Ron Atkinson who took a certain young midfielder called Bryan Robson with him!!
WHO IS THE GREATEST PLAYER EVER TO ADORN A WBA SHIRT?
As with the previous question I don’t have the greatest pool to choose from as 1986-2000 was probably the worst period in the club’s history!! In my lifetime many of the current crop would be up there. If you polled older Albion supporters, you’d probably hear the names Laurie Cunningham, Cyrille Regis, Jeff Astle, Bryan Robson, Ronnie Allen and Tony ‘Bomber’ Brown quite frequently.
Manchester United are without Anderson, Rafael and Nani – however, welcome back Danny Welbeck who was missing against Newcastle through illness. Ashley Young and Phil Jones are also set to return to the fold, having recovered from minor injuries. Wayne Rooney is definitely out of the match having picked up an injury in training this week and is set to miss three weeks of football.
United could also welcome back Japanese international Shinji Kagawa, who has been missing in action since the 3-2 victory over Braga in October. Sir Alex Ferguson has suggested that he could play a part in the fixture, but would start on the bench if so. Nemanja Vidic looks to continue his progress, despite complaining of soreness in his knee following the 1-1 draw at Swansea, and could start the match alongside free scoring Jonny Evans.
WBA have a number of injury concerns with Jonas Olsson, Goran Popov and Youssouf Mulumbu all picking up injuries against QPR in the boxing day fixture on boxing day. Defenders Olsson has a groin injury, Popov has a hamstring injury whilst midfielder Mulumbu also has a hamstring injury.
Quotes in build up to match
Sir Alex Ferguson:
(On injury news)
“We’re hoping maybe Young will be ready and Danny Welbeck should be ready. He was ill on Tuesday night but I think he should be okay. At least that’s a couple of bodies back fresh for us. We’ll just assess the rest in terms of tiredness.”
(On Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs)
“I can’t give you an update on the injuries as it’s only two days on from Wednesday and there were issues with a soft, tiring pitch, we need to assess players like Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs as I think, at their age, it took a lot out of them.”
(On the return of Kagawa)
“Shinji Kagawa wanted to do a warm-up and training on the pitch and he is getting close. I’ll see what he’s like today and I could maybe put him on the bench tomorrow depending on who is available.”
(On Alan Pardew)
“He is the worst for haranging referees. His whole staff, every game. He was at it the whole game on Wednesday. He shoves a ref then makes a joke of it, then he’s got the cheek to criticise me. It’s unbelievable. He forgets the help I’ve given him, by the way”
(On goal against QPR on boxing day)
“I didn’t think it was a foul. I was confused. I just saw the ball go up and then in the net. I’ve seen it on the video and I don’t think he has done a lot wrong. I didn’t think it was much of a foul to be honest. That’s why he’s there and that’s we pay him all that money.”
(On bringing back George Thorne)
“We have brought George back from Peterborough and he will go into the squad tomorrow. He has done exceptionally well for them and helped in their resurgence. We’ve always kept and eye on him while he’s been there, he’s a young boy trying to establish himself in the game and it’s been an important part of his education playing Championship football for Peterborough.”
(On playing against WBA)
“We can’t take anything for granted. I remember a couple of years ago West Brom drew with us 2-2 at home and it was a tough game. We played them towards the end of last season and found that they were a really hard team to break down. What they do is they get the two defensive units really tight. It forces you to go wide and try to get crosses into the box. They are very hard to break down.”
* Courtesy of Manutd.com
Potential Manchester United Team
Despite De Gea receiving some criticism for Newcastle’s opening goal, the young Spaniard should continue in goal. Smalling and Ferdinand were poor for Newcastle’s third goal, which could see Ferguson rotate with Jones filling in at right back. The manager will no doubt want Vidic to get some playing time over the festive season, however – having complained of of sore knee following the Swansea draw, he could again start on the bench although would not be surprised if he started alongside Jonny Evans. Evans is in good form and should retain his place. The introduction of Cleverley for Scholes (against Newcastle United) was a game changer, which freed up Michael Carrick to start influencing play. Sir Alex will hope for more of the same, so expect Cleverley to start alongside Carrick.
Despite Sir Alex defending Ryan Giggs, who was impressive on boxing day – the return of Ashley Young could see the boss rotate. Robin van Persie will surely start alongside Javier Hernandez. Danny Welbeck should hopefully make an appearance at some point during the match and, depending on how ill he was and the impact on his training, could make a start – hopefully up top rather than wide.
A look at West Brom
Current Premier League manager of the month Steve Clarke has done a great job so far at the Hawthorns as West Brom find themselves in the lofty heights of sixth place, level on points with fourth place Tottenham Hotspur. WBA have beaten Liverpool, Chelsea and were extremely close to getting something off Manchester City, who scored two late goals through Dzeko. Shane Long is the clubs top goalscorer (in all competitions) with seven goals, although on loan Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku is the top scorer in the league with five goals.
West Brom have won three games away from home this season, with the latest a 2-1 victory over QPR. The previous four matches saw a 2-1 victory over Norwich, but prior to that – the club embarked on a three game losing streak away at Arsenal, at home to Stoke and a 3-1 defeat away at Swansea at the end of November. West Brom have conceded a fair amount of goals on their travels, letting in 16 in 9 games. Having said that, Steve Clarke’s men have scored twelve goals away from home, four more than Newcastle United did prior to the three they scored at Old Trafford.
Other than Sir Alex Ferguson’s rant at official against Newcastle, the big talking point is the amount of goals United are conceding. United have conceded 13 goals at home, thats the same as Southampton who find themselves in 17th spot. Having said that United have picked up more points at home than second placed Manchester City, with the only defeat coming at home to Tottenham Hotspur.
The fact that United have had to come from behind in a number of fixtures this season will of course concern Sir Alex, who has spoken about this in some detail. Having said that, games like the boxing day fixture are incredibly entertaining and shows great character to overcome a setback. The manager criticised the defensive display in the 4-3 victory over Reading and warned that City would have a field day in the next fixture if the side defended the same way. Despite conceding twice in the second half, United put in a superb defensive display with all three centre halves (Evans was replaced by Smalling) performing impeccably.
Clarke could start with Lukaku as a lone striker, although as Shane Long and Peter Odemwingie were rested in the match against QPR – both could start in a 4-4-2 and take the game to United. I expect goals, but also – as demonstrated in the response to the comical Reading defending – a better defensive display from the league leaders. United to take the lead only for WBA to equalise before half time. Two second half goals for the home side to end 2012 on a high. What do you think the result will be?