Manchester United haven’t conceded a goal since the 1-1 draw with CSKA Moscow
The figures do not bode well for an open attacking game at Old Trafford this afternoon. Manchester United haven’t scored a goal in the Premier League since Wayne Rooney’s strike against Everton three weeks ago, whilst WBA have only conceded two goals away from The Hawthorns all season. Looking at the 0-0 draw with Crystal Palace last week, United are struggling to capitalise on the amount of possession the side has during Premier League matches.
This generally applies to games away from Old Trafford – but with WBA’s stingy defence, the 5-5 goal fest in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final is highly unlikely. Louis van Gaal has pleaded for patience with United fans following boos during the CSKA Moscow game in the week – which United won 1-0. Can United pick up in front of goal and pick up three points and seek revenge following the 1-0 defeat to WBA last May?
View from the opposition
We are lucky to be joined by Warren Stephens who blogs over at Express and Star. We discussed progress under Tony Pulis, Saido Berahino’s failed moved to Spurs and how Jonny Evans has done since joining from Manchester United You can follow Stephen on Twitter here – @warren_stephens.
1) How would you sum up Tony Pulis’ time at the club so far? Happy with progress?
Purposeful and painful in equal measures. He was drafted in at the turn of the year to keep us in the Premier League – Chairman Jeremy Peace is firmly focused on the value of his investment and will have one eye on next year’s new TV deal. Pulis, to his great credit, achieved that aim fairly comfortably by making us ugly, resilient, dogged and pragmatic. I think the fans accepted that – it was a means to an end.
However, despite a record summer outlay on transfers, the football has scarcely improved. We are picking up results but – and I’m sure this is something that might resonate with your supporters – it has not been enjoyable to watch. There’s something outrageously infuriating about going away to Watford and being seemingly more concerned with not losing than having a go at them.
I think the supporters have to support the players, otherwise they make it very difficult for the players to play at Old Trafford”
– Louis van Gaal on fans booing
2) WBA have scored the fewest goals away from home, but also have conceded the least – what do you put this down to?
Tony Pulis. I believe I’m right in saying that in his reign at Stoke, they picked up good proportion of their points at home and his away record was really poor – something like 76 points in 90 away games over 5 seasons. It’s really easy to see why on the evidence of the last 10 months.
We go away and set up very deep, suffocate the opposition and our game plan, seemingly, is to nick something on the off chance, like at OT last season. At Crystal Palace Pulis had the pace of Zaha, Bolasie and Puncheon to break with, he doesn’t have that with us, or the exciting players we do have are lucky to get on the bench. Therefore about 80% of the game will invariably be played in our half and when we do get possession, we don’t have the numbers up the pitch to keep the ball for long.
To Pulis’s credit, he’s a great organiser, gets the players working and we have picked up some points on the road, albeit against some pretty poor opposition. However, it’s certainly not inspiring and our away followings seem to have dipped recently.
3) Have you forgiven Saido Berahino for his outburst following his collapsed move to Spurs?
Yes and no. It wasn’t the first idiotic thing he’s done, it won’t be the last and he’ll never be a cult hero like a Cyrille Regis or Bob Taylor because he doesn’t have that attachment with the fans. However, I think when the window slammed shut, it became abundantly clear that the ideal scenario for everybody was that he got his head down, we got some goals out of him and he gave himself another chance of a bigger move and the opportunity to play in next year’s Euros. That seems to be what’s happening. Scoring the winner at Villa probably helped his cause!
4) What went wrong against Leicester City? Also – can Aston Villa survive the drop this season?
I was actually on a lads trip in Moldova last weekend and the only bar we could find with the Premier League on was showing your game! The general consensus from people I’ve spoken to is that, City aside, they were the best side we’ve faced this season and that we struggled to contain the pace and movement of Mahrez and Vardy in particular.
Can Aston Villa survive this season? I really, really hope not!
5) What have you made of Manchester United this season and in particular Anthony Martial?
It just doesn’t seem the same without Fergie does it? I must admit I don’t hold the same enthusiasm about watching United as I did, I’m sure that’s magnified a hundred-fold for some of your supporters. That said, you’re there or thereabouts and it looks to be the most open title race for years, so who knows?
Martial’s pace and trickery were a breath of fresh air when he first arrived. His form seems to have tailed off slightly although I’d suggest this is a result of me drafting him into my fantasy league side. In seriousness, it would be interesting to see him play through the middle, he looks a real handful.
6) Do you find United’s style of play boring and does it matter if the club is winning games?
Not as interesting as it was – during that aforementioned lads trip last weekend, the Moldovan bar man tried changing the channel after about 50 minutes of your game, which probably tells you all you need to know!
I think the only time any fans will embrace a barren spectacle is if their club is being taken into unchartered territories of success. I guess for United fans, after the last 25 years, that’s unlikely to happen.
I think clubs develop identities and expectations align to those identities. Much like yourselves, we generally have a history of playing exciting, attacking football and accepting anything different is challenging. Coma-inducing football isn’t what we’ll be reminiscing to our mates in the pub about in 10, 15 or 20 years time; it doesn’t make people want to spend money to watch it either.
7) Can United win something this season?
I think you can but I would say City have the best squad in the league and it will be a case of just hanging in there until they have a meltdown a la Fergie’s last season, or they lose the likes of Aguero and Silva to injury. Both they and Arsenal are capable of self-destruction so it could potentially be quite an open race.
The FA Cup is a lottery and I don’t think any English club will get near to challenging for the Champions League.
8) How has former red Darren Fletcher played for you since he joined in January? Also – what do you make of Jonny Evans so far?
Fletcher’s a fantastic professional and, by all accounts, made a real impression in the dressing room and around the club as a whole. In terms of on-the-field, he’s been industrious and purposeful. His distribution frustrates me at times – we have better passers at the club – but his energy and drive epitomise what his manager wants and he’s been a good signing.
Evans has been like a Rolls Royce of a signing so far which, I must admit, I was surprised by. I have, in the past, seen him exposed for a lack of pace and in one-on-one situations against attackers, but Pulis’s compact style perhaps lends itself to Evans’ strengths. His distribution is excellent for a centre-back, which I’m sure you already know, and he’s become a real fans favourite already.
9) What did you make of James McClean’s celebration against Sunderland recently? Is he a liability?
A little. In his defence, the Sunderland fans were giving him dogs abuse all game and, in that sense, I think it’s fair game to give them a bit back at the end – he did only pump a fist, he didn’t launch a grenade into the stand. However he does seem to have a tendency to seek out situations of conflict – he purposely walked to that corner of the ground, for example.
I don’t have a massive problem with him not embracing the poppy, the Union Jack and national anthem etc – whether we like it or not, everybody is entitled to an opinion. But quite often, McClean’s actions seem designed to be antagonistic and divisive, not the behaviour of a man who, in his own words, seeks a peaceful existence.
Ultimately, while he’s an Albion player, his actions will have some impact on those who play alongside him – when he provokes opposing supporters, for example – and also our fans and club as a whole when we’re plastered all over the back pages. I think he should remember that.
10) What is your WBA xi of all time?
In my lifetime? Russell Hoult, Darren Moore, Jonas Olsson, Gareth McAuley, Neil Clement, Jason Koumas, Youssouf Mulumbu, Derek McInnes, Peter Odemwingie, Kevin Phillips, Super Bob Taylor. Not all selected on the basis of technical ability and an unbalanced XI that wouldn’t work in reality!
If you were to ask any Albion supporter over 35, who saw us when we were good, you’d find the names Cyrille Regis, Laurie Cunningham, Jeff Astle, Bryan Robson, Tony ‘Bomber’ Brown and Willie Johnstone replacing many of those I included.