Saturday 16 December 2017

Match preview: West Brom v United

United begin a testing run of five games in 13 days with the first of three successive away encounters at Alan Pardew's struggling West Brom side. The Reds follow up the trip to the Hawthorns with the Carabao Cup quarter-final at Bristol City in midweek and then return to the Midlands to face Claude Puel's in-form Leicester next week, before two home games in the final week of 2017.

Paul Pogba completes the final game of his ban, but Eric Bailly will require ankle surgery and is set for a three month absence. Luke Shaw is in contention, Marouane Fellaini is doubtful but Marcos Rojo could return. For the 19th-placed Baggies, Gareth Barry should be available but Nacer Chadli is sidelined. Craig Dawson and James Morrison are also out. West Brom replaced one much-travelled Premier League boss with another with Pardew in for Tony Pulis but - although the Baggies have been harder to beat under the former Palace manager - they remain without a win since the second week of the season. 

Draw specialists West Brom are the second lowest scorers in the league having scored only 12 times in 17 games so far, but they did hold free-scoring Liverpool to a draw at Anfield last time out - having lost 1-0 at fellow strugglers Swansea in Pardew's second game in charge (his first also ended goalless, against his former club Palace who are also deep in the relegation mire). That result on Merseyside lifted them out of the dreaded drop zone and into 17th, but results elsewhere on Saturday saw them drop back into the relegation places. Despite their perilous position, their defence has been relatively watertight having conceded only 22 goals this term.

Despite the ongoing impotence of the second-bottom Baggies, United boss Jose Mourinho said he expects a difficult match in the Midlands. He said: "We are second, yes in other seasons the number of points could be first, but in this moment we have to accept second. As I have been saying, match after match, we go one match at a time and let's see where we are at the end of the season. West Brom and Pardew have a lot of tactically good, physical, experienced Premier League players and they have know - how. Their squad is good, their stadium is enthusiastic and we cannot take them lightly. This will be a difficult match." 

United will look to re-establish our three point advantage over Chelsea and consolidate second place after the champions moved level on points with us with a 1-0 win over Southampton. City, meanwhile, opened up a yawning 14-point chasm at the summit with a 16th straight win having thumped Spurs 4-1. All we can do is keep winning and focus on our own job as the season reaches a critical stage. 

Form guide: West Brom L D D D L D United W W W W L W 
Match odds: West Brom 6/1 Draw 14/5 United 11/2
Referee: Anthony Taylor (Manchester) 

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