Key Battles: Bailly, Mkhitaryan and Rashford key to beating the Baggies


Manchester United host West Bromwich Albion in the Premier League at Old Trafford on Saturday. It was nearly a fortnight ago when United beat Middlesbrough 3-1 at the Riverside, pushing their way into fifth place in the league with a battle on their hand’s to earn a top four place and a UEFA Champions League position next season. Jose Mourinho’s side have a few problems ahead of Saturday’s fixture; two suspensions – Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ander Herrera; numerous injuries including Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Wayne Rooney and Paul Pogba, who has been seen via his social media channels training, albeit in a gym, ahead of the match. United may be depleted at this moment in time but should have enough quality in their team to fight West Brom for the three points on offer. What will the Key Battles be at Old Trafford on Saturday afternoon?

Eric Bailly v Salomón Rondón

Eric Bailly has been on of the best central defenders for Manchester United this season, pairing with Daley Blind in his early days at the club, more recently with Chris Smalling. The resurgence of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo during the Ivorian’s injury, then his participation in the African Cup of Nations. Bailly is commanding in the area and is a ball winner and player, he can help to dictate United’s play going forward, something he is not afraid to do himself. Partnered with Rojo, which could well be the case will be good for him. The Argentinian is the most-improved defender this season with many writing him off during the summer. Pitted against Salomón Rondón, Bailly could have a tough time. Rondón has scored seven goals, assisting twice this season, having 49 shots on goal, hitting the target 18 times (37%). He may not be the most clinical player in front of goal, as statistically, James McClean is that player with 87% of his shots (13) on target. He has only scored twice, though, with two assists. Rondón will be up for the challenge of sinking United, like he did at the Hawthorns last season, scoring the only goal of the match.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan v Darren Fletcher

Henrikh Mkhitaryan had a good international break, sitting out the Middlesbrough match, albeit on the bench, and playing 90 minutes for Armenia against Kazakhstan, winning 2-0, scoring one of the goals himself. Mkhitaryan is one of the best transfers, in an attacking sense, by Mourinho in the summer, seeing himself left out of the side earlier in the season, earning his plaudits with the Portuguese manager months later and being one of the first names on the team sheet, when fit, of course. Pitted against the Armenian could be Darren Fletcher, a former United Academy star who carved a 20-year career at the club before leaving just under two years ago. Fletcher has done well, battling ulcerative colitis, playing football again, against all odds, and now playing at a good standard in the Premier League with West Brom, who have a point to prove this season and could still qualify for Europe. Fletcher will know how United play, having many former teammates still at the club, but marking Mkhitaryan could be a problem for him, but equally it could be just as big a problem for Mkhitaryan. United will need to supplement the attacking threat of Zlatan Ibrahimovic for one more match, with Mkhitaryan the most likely to do that, whether he plays through the middle in a number ten role, or as a wide man.

Marcus Rashford v Jonny Evans

Marcus Rashford has another chance to show Mourinho what he can do in the absence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic due to suspension. Rashford was unlucky not to do more damage to his opposition in the previous two domestic matches, and for England during the international break, exciting from his introduction on Sunday on the hour mark, doing much more than most of his England teammates. It may well be early days for Rashford, but gaining this kind of experience at his age will be good for him. Rashford is predatory on the ball, able to beat his man, from any angle, any direction. Jonny Evans could well be the man to try and silence Rashford, needing to be at the top of his game from the very start of the match to the very end. Rashford, should he score, will be able to use it as a foot in the door for the upcoming matches, which will see United play nine matches in 30 days – in two competitions. Winning, and winning well will be what everyone wants to see. Solving the problems to the goalscoring, which has blighted the club since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson.

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