Manchester United resume their Premier League title pursuit on Sunday when they host West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford. During the reverse fixture in August -- which occurred on the opening weekend of the season -- United were 2-1 victors despite only having a single shot on target that day. Wayne Rooney opened the scoring early at the Hawthorns when he successfully converted the Red Devil's only chance on target. Shane Long later equalised in the 1st half. In the 81st minute, a cross from Ashley Young was deflected in by the Baggies' Steven Reid for the winner. During this fixture last season, West Brom were the only side in league to take any points off of United at Old Trafford during a 2-2 draw.
Form Guide: United head into the match sitting 2nd in the league table with 64 points through 27 matches -- two points shy of leaders Manchester City. The champions are unbeaten in their last seven league ties -- 6 of which have been victories -- with their most recent result being a 1-3 away defeat of Totthenham Hotspur last weekend. However, United continued their unconvincing European form this season at the midweek when they were defeated 2-3 by La Liga side Athletic Bilbao at home. The return leg with Athletic is on Thursday at San Mames in the Basque Country.
Team News: Darren Fletcher and captain Nemanja Vidic are out with a season-ending illness and injury, respectively. Anders Lindegaard, Antonio Valencia, and Michael Owen are all nearing returns but each is still ruled out for this match. Tom Cleverley is expected to be available for selection while Chris Smalling's status is in question after receiving a blow to the head versus Athletic -- his second such blow of similar nature in just over a week's time. (Full Team News Report)
WEST BROMWICH ALBION
Form Guide: West Brom enter the match sitting 10th in the table with 36 points from 27 matches. Roy Hodgson's side is in terrific form as they've won three successive matches. Their most recent victory was a 1-0 defeat of Chelsea FC last weekend at the Hawthorns -- after which then Blues' manager Andre Villas-Boas was sacked. The Baggies are not currently involved in any other competition besides league.
Team News: Reid, Jerome Thomas, and Marton Fulop have been ruled out while the availability of Billy Jones, Paul Scharner, and Chris Brunt is uncertain. Zoltan Gera has a sesaon-ending injury. (Full Team News Report)
United: The in-form David de Gea is expected in goal as is Jonny Evans at center-back. Rio Ferdinand is Evans' likely partner but manager Sir Alex Ferguson has hinted that his former captain may be rested versus West Brom so that he can feature on Thursday in Spain. If Ferdinand is indeed rested, Smalling -- if his head injury doesn't prevent him from participating -- or Phil Jones likely would start in his place. Patrice Evra is probable at left-back while any of Jones, Rafael, Smalling, or even Fabio is in contention at right-back.
In central-midfield, the duo of Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes is expected and they could be flanked by Nani on the right and Ashley Young on the left. Park Ji-sung is in contention as well -- more likely on the left flank. Wayne Rooney is almost certain to start if fit and he will be partnered by either Danny Welbeck or Javier Hernandez (Chicharito)
West Brom: Former United 'keeper Ben Foster is the Baggies' undoubted No. 1 while Jonas Olsson and Gareth McAuley are expected as the center-back duo. Jones appears most likely to deputise for Reid at right-back while Liam Ridgewell is anticipated to be selected over Nicky Shorey at left-back. If Hodgson elects to deploy three in the center of the park, then Youssuf Mulumbu is the likely holding-player while James Morrison and Keith Andrews would be positioned slightly higher up the pitch. Marc-Antoine Fortune is the current first-choice to lead the line attack with the in-form Peter Odemwingie expected on one flank. Brunt -- if fit -- or Graham Dorrans appear to be the most likely replacement candidates for Thomas in attack. If a two-striker system is used, then Shane Long is in contention to feature as well.
* Can United break the Baggies down? - Sir Alex's side is likely to control the majority of possession in this game while Hodgson's side is likely content with soaking up the pressure and staying organized in the back. United's average 55.9% possession rate in league and West Brom's 45.6% possession rate in league is indicative of this. The away side will likely keep 8-9 players behind the ball, compact the lines, and defend narrowly to minimize gaps. This tactic can be a frustrating one for even the most devastating attacking sides in the world (e.g. Inter's 2010 Champions League final upset of Barcelona and England's recent friendly upset of Spain). What's a good counter tactic?
United will need to find a way to stretch play. This can be accomplished by swinging the ball patiently side-to-side and then attacking with intent when an overload is created -- the full-backs joining the attack often assists in this. Another way a side can stretch the opposition is by having deep-lying playmakers that are capable of dissecting an opponent from deep. If Scholes and Carrick can pick out incisive long balls from deep -- to either the flanks for the wingers or over the top balls for the forwards to run onto -- then this might force West Brom to come out higher in an attempt to close down United's registas. In turn, this could open up more space higher up the pitch for United's attackers to exploit as the channels should widen and more space could open up between the lines.
* United must be wary of Odemwingie breaking on the counter: The most dangerous West Brom attacker is undoubtedly Odemwingie. During the first two matches of the Baggies' current three-match winning streak, the Russian born -- but Nigeria international -- attacker bagged 5 goals total against Sunderland and Wolves. Quite often, West Brom will soak up the pressure and then look to counter through Odemwingie on the right side. It's a pretty effective strategy. They attempted 25 shots last weekend versus Chelsea.
This will mean that Evra -- who has been inconsistent with his form over the past season-and-a-half (that might be putting it kindly) -- will need to be wary of his positioning. It's very possible that Ferdinand has been moved from right-center-back to left-center-back this season so that his deep positioning can provide cover for the frequent occasions that Evra is caught out. In addition, Morrison and Andrews are able to get forward as well on the break with late-arriving runs. This is perhaps the most anticipated attacking threat that West Brom presents.
KO: 2:00pm GMT, 10:00am EST | Old Trafford
Live TV: none (U.K.), FOX Soccer (U.S.A.)
Referee: Lee Probert
Odds: Manchester United 3/10, Draw 5/1, West Bromwich Albion 11/1
TBB prediction: Manchester United 2-1 West Bromwich Albion