Jose Mourinho knows his Manchester United side can afford no more slip-ups if they are to grab a coveted top-four Premier League finish this season. The Red Devils head into this weekend’s round of matches in fifth position, four points behind Liverpool, but with two games in hand. Liverpool of course, take on Merseyside rivals Everton in tomorrow’s lunchtime kick-off, a few hours before United welcome West Bromwich Albion to Old Trafford. The result from Anfield could ramp up the pressure on Mourinho’s men, who face a West Brom outfit that have exceeded all expectations.
United are unbeaten in the Premier League since October, but their habit of dropping points against lesser teams has undermined their Champions League aspirations. This season they have drawn at home with Stoke City, Burnley and Hull City, while last time out at Old Trafford they could only draw 1-1 with Bournemouth, despite playing against 10 men for the entire second half. Squandering too many goal-scoring opportunities has been their Achilles heel. Meanwhile, Tony Pulis’s team head into this fixture in high spirits following their 3-1 victory over Arsenal before the international break. Four wins in their past eight matches have lifted them to eighth spot; a commendable effort following a difficult start to the campaign.
United will be without star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ander Herrera, who are both serving suspensions, while Phil Jones and Chris Smalling are ruled out through injuries sustained on international duty, which leaves Mourinho short of options at centre-half. The United manager is also sweating on the fitness of world-record signing Paul Pogba, who is struggling with a hamstring complaint. Wayne Rooney, however, is set to return after missing England duty with a knee injury. Pulis has fewer concerns, with winger Matt Phillips, who is suffering from a hamstring strain, the only major doubt.
Manchester United West Bromwich Albion
West Brom are always dogged opponents and Pulis will be confident that they can frustrate United, who have struggled to put away teams this season, particularly at home. The Baggies manager will have noted how the likes of Burnley and Hull have put up a stern rearguard effort and walked away from Old Trafford with a hard-earned point. That said, even with Ibrahimovic suspended and Pogba doubtful, United have a plethora of attacking options and are sure to dominate possession. If they can break the deadlock early on before frustration sets in, they will be difficult to stop.
Score prediction: Manchester united 2-0 West Bromwich Albion