Match Previews

Ask the Opposition: West Brom vs. Manchester United

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Ahead of United’s clash with West Brom this weekend, utdreport sat down with Baggies fan Nathan Carr, who gave his predictions for Sunday’s match.

Despite the draw against Liverpool, Alan Pardew needs a big result to kick-start his career with the Baggies. Do you think an upset is on the cards at the Hawthorns?

Make no mistake, it’s going to be a very difficult test this weekend, but stranger things have happened in football. It’s true that we’ve not quite had the new manager bounce since Pardew’s arrival although there have been some positives to take from the performances against Crystal Palace and Liverpool. We fought very hard for that point at Anfield and will need the same level of commitment on Sunday, as well as the usual good fortune that you need to get something versus the top teams. Albion’s recent record against United isn’t too bad: only four defeats in the last 10 meetings with three wins for the Baggies included in that spell. We definitely have a chance.

What will be the key battles on the pitch?

I will be interested to see how our two centre-halves cope with the pace and strength of Romelu Lukaku, who I suspect will receive a warm reception from the home crowd. Jonny Evans and Ahmed Hegazi will have to be on top of their game against him. Another potential key battle will be between United’s full-backs and Albion’s wingers. Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young (or possibly Luke Shaw) like to get forward so whoever plays out wide will have to track back and help cover. It’s an unenviable task but one that must be carried out.

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Pardew has said his side needs to address West Brom’s tendency of conceding late goals, while late goals have been a huge asset to United’s season under Mourinho. Do you think this is an area that could decide the game?

Quite possibly. The late goals (75’ onwards) that we’ve conceded this season have been well-documented and ultimately cost us valuable points against Stoke, Watford, Leicester, Southampton, Tottenham, Newcastle and Swansea. It’s not necessarily a fitness issue as the players generally show good energy levels in the latter stages of games. I think it’s more of a psychological issue and that’s something we must improve upon – that mental toughness and discipline to see games through right until the end. The key is maintaining concentration and minimising silly mistakes that could lead to goals. United have scored quite a few goals from counter-attacks so we will have to be mindful of that, not throwing too many players forward late on to avoid being calved open on the break.

Who should United look out for in terms of an offensive threat for West Brom?

Offensively we’ve been poor this season – we’re the joint second lowest scorers in the division (12) alongside Crystal Palace and have struggled to turn chances into goals. Salomon Rondon is expected to lead the line and he can be a handful for any defence with the right kind of service, something we’ve not given him enough of since he joined the club. He scored the winning goal the last time we beat United in the 2015/16 campaign, our first home league victory over the Red Devils in over 30 years. I’d also look out for Chris Brunt should he feature as he can provide a threat from set-pieces with his dead ball delivery. Since his absence from the side due to injury, we’ve not been as potent from set-pieces, an area that we excelled at under Tony Pulis.

Who should West Brom be wary of going forward for United?

It’s difficult to single out just one player given the amount of quality that United possess in attack. Lukaku, Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Juan Mata, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Ander Herrera are all very dangerous players and capable of turning matches on their head with an individual moment of brilliance. It’s important, therefore, that we don’t allow these players the space and time on the ball to cause damage.

What do United need to do to win this game? And what do West Brom need to do to get a result?

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If United play to their maximum, then they’ll win the match. That’s just me being honest. I expect them to have the bulk of possession, so Albion need to be organised defensively which we have been under Pardew so far. What Albion need to do is keep things tight and avoid conceding in the first 10-15 minutes. That would put us on the back foot from the get-go and a Jose Mourinho team are unlikely to relinquish that early lead. Taking our chances when they come is another factor in getting a result. We may only get one or two clear-cut ones so being ruthless with them is vital.

Prediction for the game?

West Bromwich Albion 1-1 Manchester United. An optimistic prediction, but I do believe we can get a point which would be an excellent result for us and really boost the confidence within the squad ahead of our trip to Stoke next weekend.

Nathan is a pundit on The BoingCast – the original West Bromwich Albion podcast by the fans for the fans – and the Express & Star’s weekly Baggies blogger. You can follow him on Twitter @njcarr_.

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