Manchester United vs West Brom – Three Key Battles

Credit: BeIN Sports
Credit: BeIN Sports /

Manchester United will be looking to stay in winning ways following the late victory over CSKA Moscow  when they face West Bromich Albion at Old Trafford.

The Red Devils fell to West Brom last season, failing to score a goal as Jonas Olsson gave the Baggies the win with a fortunate deflection. As has been the case for a large part of this season, United controlled to flow of the match but failed to finish their chances. In the last five meetings between the clubs, West Brom have lost only once, while drawing twice and winning twice.

Despite the victory against their Russian opposition in the midweek Champions League match, Louis van Gaal’s squad will need to get back on the scoresheet after two consecutive goalless draws in the Premier League against their Manchester rivals and Crystal Palace. The match presents yet another opportunity to silence the critics, supporters, and even former who players have been growing restless with the limited attacking play.

However, regardless of West Brom’s position in the bottom half of the table, they will be no easy opponent. The team has captured a clean sheet in four of their five away matches thus far this season and have only lost twice in their last nine away matches in the league. The match could be decided by some individual brilliance, so here are three key battles that may determine the outcome.

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Anthony Martial vs Jonny Evans

Evans will return to Old Trafford for the first time following his summer transfer to West Brom, though he will likely come up against a new face in Anthony Martial.

Despite having played on the left wing in recent weeks, the French attacker’s favored position has clearly been in the striker role. He’s already scored three goals in the Premier League for Manchester United, good enough for co-leader in the squad’s league goal-scoring ranks. Following Rooney’s struggles to start this season, van Gaal should opt to return his summer signing to his natural position.

The young talent is also prolific as a target man in the center of attack as he looks to involve his supporting midfielders, which will give Evans headaches in defense.  As United supporters will know, the Northern Ireland international is anything but solid at the heart of the defense. Though he’s had a decent time with his new club, he has struggled when up against top talent.

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Barring a spectacular performance out of the former Manchester United man, Martial’s pace and creativity should be too much to handle and could get the Red Devils back in goalscoring form.

Bastian Schweinsteiger vs James Morrison

German international Bastian Schweinsteiger has been the manager’s darling in terms of maintaining possession, but he may need to create chances with his incisive passing if United are to secure the three points.

West Brom will drop deep in defense and try to remain compact, limiting the Red Devils’ ability to find pockets of space. When the opposition has successfully thwarted United’s midfielders from playing passes into the striker, van Gaal’s team has struggled with finding alternative routes to goal. If this is the case in the upcoming match, a Schweinsteiger ball over the top into an on-running attacked, or a clever ball into Martial’s feet could give his team enough space for a clear-cut chance on goal.

Unfortunately for the midfield general, he’ll be up against arguably West Brom’s most consistent player in James Morrison. The midfielder has scored twice and assisted twice in seven league appearances for his side while still being vigilant as a defender.

If Schweinsteiger can come up with one or two brilliant passes, it could be the difference between the usual goalless possession or a comfortable victory for Manchester United.

Daley Blind vs Salomon Rondon

Chris Smalling has been solid in defense this season, which could force West Brom to attack his partner in United’s central back line. Blind could get the start over teammate Phil Jones, and if he does he will have his hands full with one of the Premier League’s finest attacking players.

The versatile Dutchman started the season well in defense with Smalling while Jones was sidelined due to injury, but he has since relinquished that role. If thrust into the position against a side that scores mainly off of set pieces and crosses, Blind could struggle against the much more physical Rondon.

The Colombian forward has scored in his two most recent games and will be looking to build on his fine form. While Smalling may keep him at bay, it will be down to Blind to do the same if United want to continue their run of clean sheets.

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Should United win these individual battles, it will go a long way to securing the three points at Old Trafford as they look to keep pace with the likes of Arsenal and Manchester City.