Manchester United kick off a busy week with West Bromwich Albion’s visit to Old Trafford on Sunday. The Reds will play three matches in seven days, culminating with the season-defining trip to Wembley for the FA Cup semi-final. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves — first up is relegation-bound West Brom.
The Baggies won their first two Premier League matches of the season, but have only tasted victory once since then. Yes, that means they’ve only won a single league game since late August. This historically poor form has already cost two managers their jobs and will surely relegate the West Midlands club at season’s end.
Manchester United, on the other hand, enter Sunday’s match on a terrific high after last weekend’s scintillating comeback at the Etihad. Down 2-0 at halftime (and lucky it wasn’t more), the Reds rallied back behind a Paul Pogba brace and Chris Smalling’s winning header. Most importantly, United ensured that their crosstown rivals will have to wait to celebrate their Premier League title.
That thrilling win also confirmed United as the Premier League’s form team, with five consecutive league victories. Impressively, this streak includes wins over Chelsea, Liverpool, and Manchester City. José Mourinho’s men faced the league’s toughest schedule over the last month and skated through with full points and plenty of momentum for the run-in.
And, on a meaningless-but-still-cool note, United have now beaten every team in the Premier League this season.
While there will probably be plenty of rotation this week ahead of the cup tie, don’t expect a weakened side on Sunday. In fact, Mourinho’s lineup for the West Brom match should give a good indication of whom he will call upon at Wembley. After that amazing second half in the derby, it might be tough for the manager to make any changes at all to his winning side.
Any mention of last weekend’s standouts must start with Pogba. United’s star brushed aside unending transfer rumors (including some attempted mind games from Pep Guardiola on the eve of the match) to score two goals in as many minutes during the club’s furious comeback.
With apologies to the magnificent David de Gea, Pogba is still United’s most important player — but must build on his derby performance in the weeks to come. If Pogba can channel the effort and attitude he showed at the Etihad and take the leap to the next level, then whatever bizarre tiff between him and Mourinho over the last month will have been worth it.
Another player finally rounding into form is Alexis Sánchez. The Chilean playmaker endured a tough start to his United career, but returned from last month’s international break a new man. In the two matches since, Sanchez scored one goal and contributed three assists.
But, to be honest, Manchester United shouldn’t need star-level performances to beat this West Brom side. They are rooted to the bottom of the table, ten points from safety with only five matches remaining. It doesn’t look good for the Baggies.
The club sacked Alan Pardew on Easter Monday after an utterly ineffective four months in charge. With relegation to the Championship all but certain, the board opted to name popular former player Darren Moore as caretaker manager for the remainder of the season. Moore made over 100 appearances for WBA in his playing career, but assumes the managerial hot-seat with scant hope of a great escape.
To Moore’s credit, he inspired his new charges to snap a nine-game losing streak with a 1-1 draw against Swansea City last weekend. Even that result, though, proved disappointing because West Brom let a great chance for three points slip away by allowing a late Tammy Abraham equalizer.
The Baggies need all the help they can get — and, thankfully for them, a few injured players might be back in time for the trip to Old Trafford. Both Nacer Chadli and Sam Field played in a U23 game earlier this week in a bid for match fitness and reportedly came through without any setbacks.
Liverpool loanee Daniel Sturridge also continues to edge closer to a return from a February hamstring injury. A high-profile temporary acquisition in January — at the steep cost of a £1.5 million loan fee — the 28-year-old forward still hasn’t scored for his new club and looks to be just as injury-prone as ever.
When these two teams met back in December, United ground out a 2-1 win at The Hawthorns. Goals from Romelu Lukaku and Jesse Lingard gave the men in red an early lead, but Gareth Barry pulled one back in the 77th minute to force a nervy finish.
There should be nothing nervy about Sunday’s match. The Premier League’s worst team comes to Old Trafford to take on its hottest. United now sit comfortably in second place — four points above Liverpool (plus a game in hand) — and should add another three points to the tally this weekend. With an important week looming ahead, there’s no reason to show any mercy to dire West Brom.