One way or another, the buildup to Manchester United’s contest with West Brom on Saturday has been dominated by the aftermath from the Premier League leaders’ win over Newcastle on Boxing Day.
United boss Sir Alex Ferguson launched a scathing attack on Alan Pardew following the Newcastle boss’ comments about Ferguson’s confronting of the officials during the dramatic encounter. The outburst continued an eventful festive period for the man who turns 71 on New Year’s Eve, after he also reacted angrily to Swansea defender Ashley Williams kicking the ball at the head of Robin van Persie during their last match with Swansea.
While Ferguson’s comments are almost always calculated, it would be understandable if United’s constant stream of rollercoaster matches was beginning to get to him. Javier Hernandez’s late strike against Newcastle made it the eighth time that they have come from behind to win in the league this season. In that match alone they recovered a deficit three times.
Despite United’s obvious problems conceding goals, Ferguson is at a loss to explain their frailties.
"I can’t answer that,” he said, according to Manchester United’s official website. “I can’t possibly answer it. Obviously, I don’t think we’d be doing our job properly if we weren’t assessing where we’re losing goals. We’ve been analyzing every possible detail to try and get a constant thread that tells me we need to do this but that just doesn’t appear.
"Either we don’t attack, which is not United’s way, or we have to let our supporters live through the agony of 4-3s. We’ve not had a 5-4 yet or a 6-5. I think that would be even more exciting! I said after Reading it had to stop. And I’m saying it again—it has to stop. But it won’t stop. With this present team, it’s just one of those seasons where we seem to be letting in silly goals."
Nemanja Vidic could help provide a solution, with the United captain set to come back into the team after being rested against Newcastle. The attack will also receive a boost with Danny Welbeck and Ashley Young likely to return to the squad, while Shinji Kagawa could be back on the bench as he continues his return to fitness. Wayne Rooney will again miss out and Phil Jones looks unlikely to be ready.
West Brom travel to Old Trafford looking to end a winless streak against the Red Devils that stretches back to 1984. With the Baggies going well under Steve Clarke, they will perhaps feel that they have every chance of doing just that.
Currently sixth in the Premier League, West Brom have recovered well from a difficult spell, where they took just one point from four matches, to win their last two games on the bounce.
Clarke will be hoping that Youssouf Mulumbu, Goran Popov and Jonas Olsson will be passed fit, with all three major doubts. Midfielder Claudio Jacob is still not ready for a return.
Manchester United (probable)
G: De Gea
D: Smalling, Evans, Vidic, Evra
M: Valencia, Cleverley, Carrick, Young
F: Hernandez, Van Persie
West Brom (probable)
D: Jones, McAuley, Tamas, Ridgewell
M: Mulumbu, Morrison
Odemwingie, Gera, Brunt
Prediction: Manchester Untied matches are becoming increasingly difficult to predict this season given their almost lax attitude to defending on occasion. West Brom certainly have the ability to cause Ferguson further headaches, but, while still far from his best, the likely return of Vidic should help shore up United’s back line. The fact that the more dynamic Tom Cleverley should come into to the midfield is also likely to be a boost.
West Brom have been significantly weaker away from home this season and that record should continue at Old Trafford.
Manchester United 3-1 West Brom
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League contest kicks-off at 10 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by ESPN2, with a live stream available on ESPN3.