Manchester United may have managed to bring an end to their long goal drought in midweek against CSKA Moscow, but it may not take long for the cries of discontent to return to Old Trafford on Saturday. Wayne Rooney’s winner in the Champions League on Tuesday came after nearly seven goalless hours for Louis van Gaal’s side, which had been accompanied by increasing unrest from the supporters.
As well as chants of “We want to attack,” there were loud boos for the decision to replace Anthony Martial with Marouane Fellaini in the second half against the Russian visitors.
United may be within four points of the Premier League summit and top of their Champions League group, but there is far from universal approval of how Van Gaal has developed the side since taking charge 16 months ago. And the prospect of the goals flowing from those in red on Saturday are not helped by the fact that they will be taking on a West Brom side that has the best defensive record away from home in the whole Premier League this season, having conceded just twice in five matches.
If the dissension is to continue from those in the stands at Old Trafford, though, Van Gaal has requested that it be directed at him rather than those on the pitch.
“I can only advise the fans to criticize the manager and not the players," he said, according to BBC Sport. “I can cope with it. I have had a lot of experience in my life as a manager. It's very difficult to play for Manchester United with a lot of pressure and you can taste that in Old Trafford because of all the yelling, then it's not good for my players.”
Van Gaal doesn’t yet know if Morgan Schneiderlin will be among those players on Saturday, with the midfielder still battling an illness that kept him out against CSKA Moscow. But his options at right-back will be limited with Antonio Valencia still out injured and Matteo Darmian suspended after collecting his fifth booking of the season in last week’s goalless draw with Crystal Palace.
West Brom’s fine defensive record on the road this campaign has been achieved with the help of a couple of former Manchester United stalwarts. Center-back Jonny Evans has started all seven of West Brom’s Premier League matches since he ended his 11-year stay at Old Trafford at the end of August, while Darren Fletcher, who moved to the Hawthorns in February after nearly 20 years at United, has been an ever-present at the heart of their midfield. West Brom’s squad also features two former United goalkeepers, Ben Foster and Anders Lindegaard. Neither, though, are likely to play on Saturday, with Foster still coming back from a long-term injury and Lindegaard currently backing up Boaz Myhill.
While many former Manchester United players, such as Paul Scholes and Peter Schmeichel, have criticized the style of play currently deployed by those at Old Trafford, Evans has a more favorable view.
“That's their opinion,” he told Sky Sports. “To be honest I haven't seen much of the games this season so it's hard for me to see the way they've been playing and give my own opinion on it. I'm sure he will get it right. He's a very good coach.
“He's a very hands-on coach. He likes to be involved in all the sessions and he sets high standards. On a personal level I enjoyed the training, the demands he set and the high standards he set on his players. He was [enjoyable to work with]. I've no problems. I enjoyed my time there and felt I learned a lot from him."
Evans couldn’t prevent West Brom going down 3-2 at home to Leicester City last time out, a result that left them in 12th place in the Premier League table.
G: De Gea
D: Young, Smalling, Jones, Rojo
M: Schweinsteiger, Schneiderlin
Mata, Rooney, Lingard
D: Dawson, McAuley, Evans, Brunt
M: Sessegnon, Yacob, Fletcher, McClean
F: Berahino, Rondon
Prediction: This is unlikely to be a thrilling spectacle for anyone concerned. West Brom take a cautious approach away from home, and will look to sit in and frustrate Manchester United and the crowd at Old Trafford for as long as possible, before trying to feed the pace of Saido Berahino and physicality of Salomon Rondon upfront. Manchester United will have plenty of possession, but have often done that this season without finding the ingenuity to break down opponents. It is likely to be a struggle once again, but with Van Gaal moving Anthony Martial back up front against CSKA Moscow, United should have enough of a cutting edge to eventually break through.
Predicted score: Manchester United 1-0 West Brom
Kickoff time: 10 a.m. EDT
TV channel: NBCSN
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra