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Starting XI: Manchester United vs. West Bromwich Albion

The Premier League’s two most under-fire managers meet at Old Trafford

West Bromwich Albion v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League - The Hawthorns Photo by Peter Powell/PA Images via Getty Images

Everything that you need to know ahead of Saturday’s match:

(1) With Mauricio Pochettino waiting in the wings, most expected Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to walk the plank if Manchester United failed to win at Goodison Park before the international break. Happily, the Reds significantly eased the pressure on their beleaguered manager with an encouraging 3-1 win over Everton. That result, though, only moved United up one spot in the Premier League table — to an underwhelming 14th — but staved off a miserable fortnight of speculation and criticism. Baby steps.

(2) After the win at Everton, Solskjaer launched a furious attack on the Premier League’s scheduling decisions, blaming the congested fixture list for a spate of Manchester United injuries: Luke Shaw (hamstring), Marcus Rashford (shoulder), Victor Lindelöf (back), etc. Mason Greenwood has also been battling illness, adding to the United boss’s problems. If Rashford can’t go on Saturday, the smart money’s on Edinson Cavani to lead the line, with Anthony Martial shifting out left and either Juan Mata or Greenwood on the right.

(3) Shaw’s long-term injury opens up an opportunity for Alex Telles at left-back. The Brazilian has only played once for the club since signing from Porto on deadline day, owing both to Luke Shaw’s strong play and his own Covid-19 diagnosis. Still, Telles impressed at wing back in last month’s shocking win at Paris Saint-Germain, hinting at big things to come. Despite some odd reports to the contrary, it now seems that Telles did not test positive for Covid-19 a second time and will be available for selection this weekend.

(4) During the last international break, Paul Pogba fanned the flames with some ill-advised comments about Real Madrid. This time, though, it was his national team manager making all the headlines. “[Paul] is in a situation with his club where he cannot be happy, neither with his playing time nor with his positioning,” said Didier Deschamps. With only two starts out of a possible seven since the October break, Pogba seems to be drifting further into the periphery rather than staking a claim for more playing time.

(5) What happened to Manchester United’s offense? After hugely promising seasons from Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood, Bruno Fernandes, et al. in the United attack, much of this scoring threat has vanished in 2020/21. Up to this point, the Reds rank 17th in the Premier League (that’s fourth from bottom) in non-penalty xG. That tells a very sad tale about United’s inability to create scoring chances — and finish them — without benefit of the referee’s whistle.

(6) It’s been a tough return to the top flight for West Brom. After eight matches, they’re stuck in 18th on only three points, still searching for their first league win of the season. And the vultures are starting to circle for manager Slaven Bilic. Winning promotion back to the Premier League only goes so far once the losses start to pile up.

(7) West Brom looked up for the challenge after a strong summer in the transfer market. Karlan Grant (Huddersfield Town) and Grady Diangana (West Ham) were the marquee signings, but they also tied down two loanees from their promotion-winning season on permanent deals: Matheus Pereira, who scored eight goals and a Championship-high sixteen assists, and Callum Robinson.

(8) All of their good work, though, was undone with the late sale of Ahmed Hegazi to Al-Ittihad in Saudi Arabia. The West Brom board had allegedly promised Bilic that Hegazi would not be sold, only to go behind his back and sell the defender anyway. Bilic even reportedly considered leaving the club over the betrayal. It’s all water under the bridge now, but Premier League survival will be tough enough without bad blood between the manager and board.

(9) West Brom’s narrow 1-0 loss to Tottenham Hotspur earlier this month provides the blueprint for their Manchester United game-plan. Bilic’s side stayed compact and dared Spurs to force a way through very deep defensive lines. It almost worked. A late Harry Kane header, though, put to dash West Brom’s best-laid plans. Expect them to line up in the same 3-5-2 formation that kept Son Heung-min, Harry Kane, and Gareth Bale quiet — at least for 88 minutes.

(10) Bilic’s new 3-5-2 also offers hope to a group desperately short of goals. In fact, West Brom have only scored once in their last five matches. But, in this new formation, Callum Robinson and Karlan Grant partner up top and even forced a goal-line clearance from Eric Dier in the Spurs loss. Sadly, that’s a step forward for this toothless bunch. Despite testing positive for Covid-19 last week, Robinson should be available for Saturday’s match as long as he’s feeling well enough to play.

(11) Some good news for the Baggies: