Here we are again. Back to Groundhog Day.
‘The most important game of the season so far.’
‘Bilic might be gone if he doesn’t win this.’
‘The players really need to step up.’
All of these are true, but we will skip that part.
At the end of the day, whatever mess United are in, they are still Manchester United and this is still Old Trafford, so it is going to be an exceptionally hard game to get something out of.
A significantly shiny silver lining is that our record at Old Trafford is exceptional: five games, three wins and one draw – bear in mind, Chelsea have not won at Old Trafford since 2013.
Last time out
Slaven Bilic’s men came agonisingly close to securing an impressive draw against Spurs before the international break, in perhaps the best performance of the season so far.
It is clear after this performance that the 5-3-2 formation works and will only be improved with Matheus Pereira and Branislav Ivanovic back in the side after testing positive for COVID-19.
Manchester United, meanwhile, looked impressively dominant against Everton, with a 3-1 away victory at Goodison Park. To nobody’s surprise, Bruno Fernandes was in red-hot form and so Albion will have to be at their A-game to even limit his chances.
Team News and Predicted XI:
Pereira and Ivanovic might be back but Bilic has said Albion have had ‘a few more’ positive tests, so it will be interesting to see if this means staff or if Albion will be missing some key players. Callum Robinson is also available again after his positive test and quarantine.
There are no new injuries to report on, as far as we know, so Hal Robson-Kanu is the only long-term absentee with a broken arm.
It would be surprising to see Bilic tinker with the system that worked so well for so long against Spurs, barring any positive COVID-19 tests, but a key question will be: where will Pereira fit in? If Bilic sticks with the 5-3-2, it is possible that Pereira takes Robinson’s place as a ‘striker’, though in a free-roaming role behind Karlan Grant.
Ivanovic will likely come back into a back three alongside Semi Ajayi, though whether Kyle Bartley continues in the middle or Dara O’Shea starts after an international break, will be a headache Bilic must resolve.
The midfield will likely be the same with Jake Livermore, Filip Krovinovic and Conor Gallagher.
Albion’s Predicted XI: (5-3-2)
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s injury situation is a little less clear-cut: Victor Lindelof played through 90 minutes of injury for Sweden, so may not be fit. If so, Axel Tuanzebe will likely fill in alongside captain Harry Maguire. Alex Telles will make his Premier League debut with Luke Shaw injured.
Manchester United fans are crying out for Solskjaer to finally start Donny Van De Beek, but the consensus seems to be that he will choose the same team that beat Everton before international break.
This will see Scott McTominay and Fred in a double pivot, with Juan Mata on the right and Fernandes through the middle. Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial will start up front, though Edinson Cavani is a real option off the bench.
With ongoing uncertainty about his contract situation, Paul Pogba will continue to start on the bench.
United’s Predicted XI: (4-1-2-1-2)
The Game Plan
West Brom’s game-plan will be reflected in their formation: defend deep, limit United’s chances and hit them on the break. Pereira being back in the side may give Bilic’s side that extra bit of zip in transition, allowing the team to breakaway with pace and precision. Krovinovic will also be key in this aspect of the game.
Gallagher and Livermore could be assigned to pressing Fernandes with aggression and ruthlessness; he is their focal point, their inspiration, so it is key that we cut off the supply line. If we can do that, and the ball sits with Fred and McTominay, there will be less to worry about.
Rashford will also need be kept quiet and so Ajayi’s pace will again come in handy, with Furlong as back-up on that right side of the defence.
United are notoriously poorer against lower-league opposition, especially when they sit deep, so it will not be surprising if Bilic asks his team to drop back even deeper to make it especially difficult for Solskjaer’s side.
It will be a tough old game, and a win is unlikely but given United’s inconsistency and our performances against sides like Chelsea and Spurs, I can see Albion getting something out of this.
Score Prediction: Manchester United 1-1 West Brom