The Hawthorns plays host to an intriguing clash in the Premier League on Sunday as West Bromwich Albion face Manchester United.
The Baggies’ hard-fought 0-0 draw away at Anfield on Wednesday showed signs of improvement for Alan Pardew’s side. West Brom frustrated Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, grinding out a point in a game which would have seemed a frightening prospect for a side perilously in and around the relegation zone, against a free-scoring Liverpool side who had been unstoppable in attack in previous matches.
The stifling of Liverpool’s ‘fab four’ of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho in a battling performance which left Anfield unexpectedly disappointed and frustrated should give Pardew’s Baggies a strong platform to build upon in the coming weeks. Now above the bottom three on goal difference in 17th, West Brom must fight for the points to steer them clear of sides below them who have themselves started to find form.
Hosting Manchester United provides a similar test to come. Jose Mourinho’s side lost precious ground in their title challenge against league leaders Manchester City last weekend, succumbing to a 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford which left them trailing their neighbours by eleven points in second place.
If that gap seems unassailable, even as early as Christmas, United must continue to regain their form and momentum, and seek to build on the 1-0 victory at home to Bournemouth in midweek. Romelu Lukaku was back on the scoresheet that night, and must continue to provide Mourinho’s side with the firepower which his £90m price tag had promised.
Lukaku’s lack of efficiency in front of goal was a big talking point of the potentially season-defining derby last weekend. On Sunday, he will return to a ground where he once found his shooting boots to really launch his career.
On loan at West Brom from his then-parent club Chelsea, Lukaku’s spell at the Hawthorns is best remembered by his hat-trick in the infamous 5-5 draw between West Brom and his current employers. In Sir Alex Ferguson’s final match in charge of United, his side conceded three goals in the last ten minutes of the match in a thrilling match at the Hawthorns in 2013.
The Belgian striker mow returns to the ground where his prodigious talent truly came to rise, this time as part of a travelling United side looking to reboot their title challenge.
With Lukaku set to continue to lead the line for United at the Hawthorns, United remain without the suspended Paul Pogba, as the influential midfielder sees out the final game of his three-match suspension. Eric Bailly and Michael Carrick remain side-lined with long-term problems, whilst Marouane Fellaini and Marcos Rojo are fitness doubts to face the Baggies.
Alan Pardew, meanwhile, will have to make late checks on the fitness of Gareth Barry, Matt Phillips and Nacer Chadli ahead of the match, but will have to make do without longer-term absentees James Morrison and Craig Dawson for this game.
United’s attacking potency will be given a stern test against a West Brom side who are likely to adopt a similarly stout defensive approach to that which saw them grind out a draw at Anfield in midweek. Ultimately, Mourinho’s side will have to be patient and pragmatic, but should have the quality and experience to continue their post-derby recovery with a battling victory.
Prediction: West Brom 0-2 Manchester United