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Preview: Manchester United out to make the Baggies suffer to keep top four hopes alive

Manchester United v West Bromwich Albion

Old Trafford, Manchester

Premier League 2016/17

Saturday 1st April 2017; KO 15:00 BST

Manchester United entertain West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford in the Premier League on Saturday afternoon. Tony Pulis’ side have done well this season, earning their 40th point back in February, which is normally the mark where teams will ensure their safety in the Premier League the following season, which is the first time a Pulis side had done this so early in the season. West Brom are not to be underestimated, as we have seen at Old Trafford and at The Hawthorns over the past four seasons. Sir Alex Ferguson’s last ever match was away to West Brom, a game which ended a 5-5 draw, an eventful ending for the then Premier League champions with Ferguson earning United their twentieth league title. West Brom have taken many points away from good teams this season, and they will be looking to do just that at the Theatre of Dreams on Saturday.

Jose Mourinho saw his side earn a 3-1 victory over Middlesbrough before the international break, moving from seventh in the Premier League, to fifth, which needed to happen for United to remain in with a chance of finishing inside the top four this season, which is one of their chances to earn a UEFA Champions League place next season, which is the minimum requirement this season. Since Ferguson retired, United have played in the Champions League twice; once under David Moyes, then two season’s later under Louis van Gaal. This will be the second season United will have played in the UEFA Europa League post-Ferguson, the first time from the group stages of the secondary European competition, which is their second chance to earn Champions League football next season. One of the chances needs to prevail for the Red Devils, who could face sponsorship cuts, with players facing a pay cut next season, which would be deserved for some not pulling their weight.

This weekend sees two fixtures that United could profit from; the Merseyside derby at lunchtime on Saturday will see Liverpool go head-to-head with Everton at Anfield, which if Everton win will see them rise above United, but Liverpool will then be just four points ahead with United having three games in hand by the time the match is over at Anfield, with United about to encounter West Brom and still having to games in hand after that. If Liverpool wins that match, it will see them stretch their lead to seven points over United, who will still have three games to play in order to catch them up. A draw would be a good result. On Sunday, Arsenal faces Manchester City at the Emirates, another match which could see United profit. Should they beat West Brom, United will be five points clear of Arsenal, and two points behind City. A draw would be a great result; Arsenal will still be below United and City would be within touching distance.

Match Officials: Mike Dean again! This should be fun…

Mike Dean will referee Saturday’s match, which will be his fourth match involving Manchester United that he has been the lead official. The 4-1 victory over Premier League champions Leicester City was his first this season, his second being the Manchester derby in the EFL Cup, in which United won 1-0, his third being the 2-0 victory over West Ham United at the start of 2017. In the previous three matches in which Dean has officiated, he has booked United players five times, but the dismissal of Sofaine Feghouli against West Ham resulted in him being demoted back in January as the red card was overturned by the Premier League. Dean is one of the referees who have been making mistake after mistake this season, which seems to be going unpunished, most of the time at least. This is something that happens across the board. Jake Collin and Simon Long will be the assistant referees, with Peter Bankes being named as the fourth official.

Form: United looking to remain unbeaten, the Baggies looking ahead to European possibility?

Manchester United: This season, Manchester United, under the guidance of Jose Mourinho, have been playing more attack minded football. Results have not gon in United’s favour though, drawing more matches than they were winning, but also losing less, so that has to be a turning point. United lost their last Premier League match against Chelsea in October, winning or drawing in the league ever since, which shows how much United have changed, but are still work in progress. Winning the FA Community Shield and the EFL Cup is an achievement, but UEFA Champions League is where United need to be next season, so earning that will end the season as a success, at least on the road to recovery. United could still win another trophy this season, the UEFA Europa League, which is one of their chances to earn Champions League football. The top four is at arm’s length right now, but with two matches in quick succession, that could change very quickly.

West Bromwich Albion: Tony Pulis’ side have done well this season. Earning their safety in the Premier League back in February after winning their 40th point of the season will show how they have improved. It could be much better for the veteran manager, but so far so good. Winning at Old Trafford will be what the Baggies want, and they may just come and take it. United have been playing matches every three days or so, that will only get much worse for them with that happening throughout April, so fatigue could derail them. The rest over the international break will do both teams some good, but injuries for Mourinho could well be costly, not to mention the two suspensions which will add more suspense to the fixture. I expect Pulis to put up a challenge, as he teams normally play tactically, but I expect United to prevail. Europe could still be an option for West Brom next season, so an upset at Old Trafford cannot be ruled out, just yet anyway.

Former Reds: A visit from some old friends…

Ben Foster, Darren Fletcher, and Jonny Evans could all be part of a West Bromwich Albion squad playing at Old Trafford on Saturday. Foster left the Theatre of Dreams back in 2010 after signing for Birmingham City, which then saw him move across the Black Country and play for the Baggies. Foster was unlikely to supersede Edwin van der Sar as the club’s number one goalkeeper, so left for his own future. At United, he won the League Cup twice in 2009 and 2010, winning the trophy for the third time in a row with Birmingham City in 2011. Fletcher left United after 20 years including his time in the Academy during the summer of 2015. Louis van Gaal had a busy midfield at the time, and Fletcher was just not getting the game time he wanted or deserved. A true United player, Fletcher is missed at the club and very well-respected.

The Scotsman won plenty at the Theatre of Dreams, including four Premier League titles, one FA Cup, two League Cups, three FA Community Shields, the UEFA Champions League and the FIFA Club World Cup. Evans left United the same year as Fletcher and won three Premier League titles, two League Cups, four FA Community Shields and a FIFA Club World Cup. The Northern Ireland international is a player in good form with the Baggies, but would probably have struggled at United if he was still there, albeit a competent at time defender to call on. All three players, if they are involved in the match, which is a high possibility, will be welcomed back to the Theatre of Dreams, all of who have been successes in many teams, albeit under Sir Alex Ferguson, but that success cannot be taken away from them.

Who are the Manchester United and West Bromwich Albion Top Scorers this season?

Manchester United: 26 – Zlatan Ibrahimović, 10 – Juan Mata, 7 – Anthony Martial, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford, 5 – Jesse Lingard, Wayne Rooney, 3 – Marouane Fellaini, 2 – Michael Carrick, Chris Smalling, 1 – Daley Blind, Own Goal, Ander Herrera, Marcos Rojo, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Antonio Valencia

West Bromwich Albion: 7 – Gareth McAuley, Salomón Rondón, 5 – Nacer Chadli, James Morrison, Matt Phillips, 3 – Chris Brunt, Craig Dawson, 2 – Darren Fletcher, James McClean, Hal Robson-Kanu, 1 – Jonny Evans, Jake Livermore

Team News: Injuries and suspensions to assist in the derailing of Manchester United?

Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ander Herrera are both suspended for the visit of West Bromwich Albion on Saturday; this is the last match both players will sit out, which is good news for Jose Mourinho ahead of the visit of Everton just three days later, which will, in effect, give the Portuguese manager two fully fit and fresh players to throw into the important encounter, but first, West Brom will need to be dealt with. Phil Jones and Chris Smalling both withdrew from the England squad last week, Jones without playing, Smalling after the Germany defeat. That will leave Mourinho with four players out of action for this match, possibly Paul Pogba being a fifth, not to mention Wayne Rooney, who was already on the sidelines through injury. Marouane Fellaini is another who is a doubt after suffering a toe injury whilst playing for Belgium last week. Mourinho did not suggest he was injured, so he may recover in time for Saturday’s match. Tony Pulis has Matt Phillips and Gareth McAuley on the sidelines, the former a major doubt for the clash at Old Trafford.

Previous Meetings: 125 years of history between the two, the head-to-head records are close!

Manchester United and West Bromwich Albion have played 129 matches in all competitions since the 1st October 1892. United have been victorious 55 times, drawing 31 times and losing 43 times, which is a pretty close record between both clubs. United beat West Brom 2-0 earlier in the season at The Hawthorns with Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring a brace. Last season that fixture ended in a 1-0 defeat for United with Salomón Rondón scoring the only goal of the game, which was the last time United lost to the Baggies. In the fixture at Old Trafford last season, United also won 2-0 with Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata scoring the goals. United need to maintain their chase on the top four this season, so by any means necessary, Jose Mourinho’s side need to ensure they earn all three points at the Theatre of Dreams, or the work they have put into their league fixtures since October will go to waste.

Starting XI Prediction: Who is going to start against West Bromwich Albion?

Predicted Score:

Manchester United 3-1 West Bromwich Albion

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