Saturday 17th December 2016 – 17.30 – BT Sports 1
Two in-form teams play one another in Saturday evening’s kick off, on BT Sport, as 7th place West Brom take on 6th place Man United at the Hawthorns. The 3-1 win against Swansea, which included a 13 minute headed hattrick from Salomon Rondon which was only the second of its kind in Premier League history, took the Baggies above Everton on goal difference. In fact, West Brom have lost just once in their last six league games.
Their impressive run has been built on a strong home record, where they won their last three games and scored 10 goals during that period. In fact, Tony Pulis side have scored more goal’s than their opposition on Saturday, and only Crystal Palace have scored more goals outside the top 5. There recent home form against United has also been strong, and they have not lost in their last 2 encounters with the Red Devils, beating them 1-0 back in March.
As they find their goal scoring touch, Pulis defensive nuance has ensured that West Brom are not conceding goals either. Only five teams in the Premiership can boast a better defensive record than West Brom so far this term. The Baggies have now scored three or more goals in three of their last five games. With his hattrick against Swansea Rondon took his tally to 16 league goals since the start of last season. This is 11 more than any other West Brom player in that time.
If he can continue that form in front of goal either side of Christmas then it could go a long way to helping West Brom in a tricky double-header, with Arsenal to come after United as the Baggies look to improve their record of having picked up just one point from a possible 12 against sides currently above them in the table this season.
Pulls will be hoping that Jonny Evans recovers from a calf injury to face his former club, having been absent for the match against Swansea. Other than Evans, the Baggies have almost full squad to choose from, with Saido Berahino and Boaz Myhill the only other players that are currently unfit.
With their 2-1 win over Crystal Palace on Wednesday night, Manchester United secured their first back to back wins in the Premier League since the end of August. For Jose Mourinho, the pleasing aspect of Wednesday’s result was the manner in which they won the game. Following a similar trend of other drawn games, to that point United had drawn 4 of their last 3 league games, United dominated the game, and created plenty of chances, but keeper Wayne Hennessey pulled off a string of fine saves.
However, the big summer signings Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic combined to give United the win in the 88th minute. You could see what it meant to the players and the manager, as Mourinho raced onto the pitch at full time to celebrate with his players. This result means United are now unbeaten, in all competitions, in their last 9. Win 3 wins on the bounce.
One of the key aspects to the recent form of United, has been the 3-man midfield of Pogba, Michael Carrick, and Ander Herrera. The three-man midfield used by Mourinho is reaping the best out of Pogba, who feels at home in this system. With Carrick sitting deep and sprinkling passes all around and Ander Herrera doing the pressing work, Pogba is given the freedom to push forward and combine with the striker. Which saw not only Ibrahimovic benefit with an assist, but Pogba take his tally of goals to 5 for the season with the opener.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan is unlikely to return to full fitness in time to make the trip to the West Midlands. There is further concern for United in defence, where Eric Bailly limped out of his second game back following a ligament injury in his right knee in midweek. Jose Mourinho made it clear after the Palace win that Bailly’s fresh knock came on his left knee rather than the previous damaged one, but after struggling through 52 minutes of action he is not expected to be rushed back into the fray on Saturday. However, Antonio Valencia will return from suspension, and will likely take Bailly’s place.
Chris Smalling remains unavailable due to a toe injury, while Anthony Martial and Luke Shaw are both thought to be fully fit despite not making the trip to London on Wednesday.
By Rich Lee @RichLee2202