The battle for the fourth spot and survival in the Premier League are both heating up. Following Everton’s surprising 3-0 win over Manchester United last weekend, West Brom levelled the playing field by robbing Liverpool off 2 points in their game on Tuesday. The draw also gave West Brom a boost in their fight for safety at the bottom of the table. This weekend Tony Pulis will take his team to Old Trafford and you can be rest assured that both teams will be hungry for the three points which will help them in their respective battles at the two ends of the league.
Wayne Rooney’s injury situation is still being monitored and Van Gaal seems to be changing the formation since the defeat at Stamford Bridge. Falcao is getting more game time while Rooney has been quite in the pitch in the past couple of weeks. Angel Di Maria has been demoted to the bench, restricted to a super sub role. West Brom, on the other hand, have Victor Anichebe playing alongside, once their prolific striker, Saido Berahino. Darren Fletcher is at the heart of that midfield with Craig Gardner and James Morrison operates on the flanks. There are some key battles promised to emerge all across the pitch this weekend.
Who will go against whom?
1. Joleon Lescott vs Ashley Young
Ashley Young has grown into the driving force behind the Manchester United attack. His ability to hold the ball and use his change of pace on the left wing has helped create many chances. He will have to deal with the experience of Joleon Lescott this weekend. Lescott is known for his blocking and shot stopping which can shut Young out of the game and put United on the back foot. Young’s crosses are bound to find one of the aerially dominant United players like Fellaini, Rooney or Smalling. If he is stopped, Van Gaal will be forced to change tact and find a way through the middle.
2. Saido Berahino vs Chris Smalling
Chris Smalling is definitely United’s best defender this season. He is commanding at the back and more than useful with his headers during corners and set pieces. Smalling will be assigned to check the pace and dribbling of Saido Berahino. Phil Jones will partner Smalling in dealing with Berahino’s creativity and Anichebe’s physicality in the box. The centre backs also need to refrain from holding a high line and be sensible in beginning counter attacks after interceptions.
3. Marouane Fellaini vs Darren Fletcher
The battle in the midfield will be one that fans at Old Trafford will savour. Darren Fletcher’s return will be a tough one. His ability to create chances will depend on how he handles the physical threat of Marouane Fellaini. The Belgian has been a revelation under Louis Van Gaal. He will duel Fletcher in the air and will hold the ball well going forward. Tony Pulis will have to overpopulate the midfield to help Fletcher get rid of the ball quicker. If Fellaini overpowers Fletcher, West Brom will find it difficult to stop Mata and Young who will find an unmarked Fellaini in the box.
In the context of the bigger tactical picture, Tony Pulis has to tell his players to be patient while Van Gaal’s men are expected to have more than two-thirds of the possession as they have done in the past few games. There is a lot riding on this game and both managers will look to take a big step towards their season objectives.