Venue – Old Trafford, Manchester, England, UK
Date – 2 April 2017
Time – 15:00 PM GMT
Manchester United’s top-four chances. Strangely, Jose Mourinho’s pursuit of a Champions League place continues to be presented as some sort of battle against the odds – something the club hope to achieve, but don’t expect to.
Odd, given the resources which have been ploughed into this season.
Still, they’ve recently – finally – heaved themselves out of sixth place and, with Arsenal listing and two games in hand on Liverpool, this winnable game comes at an opportune moment.
Manchester United will be without Chris Smalling and Phil Jones after they suffered injuries on England duty, while Paul Pogba remains sidelined.
Striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic serves the final game of a three-match ban and Ander Herrera is also suspended. Manchester United outworking their opponents.
Yes, a Tony Pulis team is coming to Old Trafford and that presents an excuse to unleash a whole range of pejorative platitudes about red-faced everyman footballers, but this is actually a hidden problem for United: they’ve been outrun in all but three of their 27 Premier League games this season, which is the worst record in the division.
We need smarter minds to determine what that actually means, but it doesn’t sound good.
West Brom midfielder Nacer Chadli is doubtful after injuring his shoulder while playing for Belgium. Salomon Rondon will be assessed after returning from international duty.
Matt Phillips is expected to be ruled out.
“April”, wrote TS Eliot, “is the cruelest month”.
Jose Mourinho knows exactly what he meant.
“Mourinho starts April beset by injuries and suspensions. His debut campaign at Manchester United may well be defined by the nine games they play this month.
“Tony Pulis’ side beat Arsenal last time out and often raise their game against high-profile opponents. West Brom have defeated Manchester United in each of the last three seasons.
“United start this weekend in fifth position, four points behind Liverpool, but with two games in hand. “April comes fourth in the calendar.
This month could well determine whether Mourinho gets among the top four places this season.” West Brom head coach Tony Pulis:
“We need a bit of luck, play to our maximum and United need to have an off day.
“It’s a club financially and stature miles in front of us. Games like that in this league you can win if things go right for you.”
West Bromwich have won three of their seven league meetings since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement as manager (D1, L3), having failed to win any of their 14 previous clashes when the Scotsman was in charge of Manchester United (D3, L11).
Two of West Bromwich’s three Premier League wins over United have come in their last three visits to Old Trafford: 2-1 in September 2013 and 1-0 in May 2015.
Darren Fletcher reflects on his move from Manchester United to West Bromwich “with a little bit of regret”.
West Bromwich midfielder Darren Fletcher has admitted he looks back on his departure from Manchester United with regret and hopes his former side win all their remaining games this season – bar one.
Albion are hoping to build on their 3-1 victory over Arsenal with a win against the Red Devils on Saturday at a ground that Fletcher said still “feels like home”.
The 33-year-old made 223 Premier League appearances in a 12-year spell at Old Trafford, winning four league titles, the FA Cup and the Champions League amongst a glut of honors, and he remained an important part of the squad under David Moyes’ spell as manager in 2013-14.
Fletcher joined West Brom in February 2015 on a free transfer after falling out of favor under then United manager Louis van Gaal, and he told ESPN FC that he has mixed emotions about the move. “I do look back with a little bit of regret because I actually thought I played really well for six months under Moyes and Ryan Giggs,” said Fletcher.
“But to be honest, I don’t think I was ever in Van Gaal’s plans in the first place.”I probably surprised him in pre-season, and that enabled me to stay when a lot of other players left, but ultimately, I couldn’t stay and not play. I would have been a bit-part player. “I just couldn’t see a way out of it. I felt that I had a lot more football in me, and I wanted to get out and give myself a chance to play. It was nothing personal. I just felt the time was right to start a new challenge.”
Fletcher helped West Bromwich to a 1-0 win over United on his first trip back to Old Trafford in May 2015, but was on the losing side when Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata scored as Van Gaal’s side won 2-0 in last season’s fixture.
Baggies manager Tony Pulis will hope Fletcher lines up on the right side of the tunnel on Saturday.
“The first time I went back, I went out into the tunnel for the line-up and stood on the wrong side!” said Fletcher. “I was conscious of not making that mistake, but I was in the zone and ended up standing on the left side.
I had to be told that the away team was on the other side! “When I am on the pitch at Old Trafford, it just feels comfortable. It feels like home.
When you are looking around, it just feels normal.
It doesn’t feel daunting, that I am playing an away game.
It is like a home game, except I am playing against the red shirts, rather than playing for them.
“After West Bromwich, United are the next team I look out for, and I always want them to do well.
I know a result for us on Saturday would be detrimental to their hopes of finishing in the top four, but they are good enough to win every game after ours, and hopefully that happens.”
Manchester United – United have gone 18 league games unbeaten since losing to Chelsea on 23 October (W10, D8).
They have only conceded two goals in nine matches at Old Trafford in 2017 in all competitions, and both of those goals were penalties.
However, Jose Mourinho’s side have won just one of their last four league games at Old Trafford, drawing the other three.
The Red Devils have scored with just 9.1% of their shots in the Premier League this season; their lowest shot conversion ratio in the competition in a single season since 2004-05 (8.2%).
West Bromwich Albion – West Bromwich’s only victory in their last eight away games in the Premier League came on New Year’s Eve against Southampton.
However, the Baggies have only lost two of their previous eight league matches home and away (W4, D2).
Tony Pulis’ side have conceded in 13 successive away matches in the league since keeping a clean sheet on the opening day of the season.
They have outrun their opponents in a league-high 93% of their matches this season, including the last 19 games in a row.
James Morrison could make his 300th Premier League appearance in this match, becoming just the fourth Scottish player to reach this landmark after Darren Fletcher, Paul Telfer and Gary McAllister.
Prediction – West Bromwich will make it very difficult for them, as per usual, but I still think Manchester United have got enough quality to create chances and, if they take them, they will win. 2-1