Premier League | The Hawthorns | Sat 8 Mar | 12:45pm
Mel versus Moyes: it’s the race to see who can be the bigger managerial disappointment.
For West Brom, much has changed since the two sides met at Old Trafford earlier this season. Since beating the champions 2-1 in September with goals from Morgan Amalfitano and Saido Berahino, Steve Clarke has been given the heave-ho, Nicolas Anelka has been banned for making an offensive gesture, Shane Long has been sold to a relegation rival (and started scoring straight away), while Pepe Mel has overseen a run of no wins in six games.
WEST BROM FORM
- WBA 1-1 Fulham (Prem)
- WBA 1-1 Chelsea (Prem)
- Palace 3-1 WBA (Prem)
- WBA 1-1 Liverpool (Prem)
- Aston Villa 4-3 WBA (Prem)
MAN UNITED FORM
- Olympiakos 2-0 Man Utd (CL)
- Palace 0-2 Man Utd (Prem)
- Arsenal 0-0 Man Utd (Prem)
- Man Utd 2-2 Fulham (Prem)
- Stoke 2-1 Man Utd (Prem)
It’s little wonder that Baggies midfielder James Morrison has described their season as a soap opera, “with a load of sh*t going on”. But then “a lot of sh*t” sums up the season for both sides facing off at The Hawthorns.
After dispatching Crystal Palace 2-0 in their last league game, Manchester United went into the Champions League and stunk out the joint with their display away to Olympiakos. Then followed the latest chapter in their own melodrama, as Robin van Persie complained about team-mates standing on sections of the pitch reserved for him alone. All of this was too much for captain Nemanja Vidic, who had seen enough and announced that he was leaving for Italy and Inter Milan.
None of which tells us much about the relative merits of each side as they face off, of course. But then it’s all a little difficult to predict. In the Baggies' last six games, they’ve disappointed against sides in the bottom half (Fulham, Crystal Palace and Aston Villa) but managed credible draws against Chelsea, Liverpool and Everton.
United have been similarly erratic, losing to Stoke, drawing at home to Fulham and then impressing away at Arsenal. The only thing we can say with any certainly about this game is that it probably won’t be very good. Oh and that one manager will end the match looking more haggard and worry-worn than when it first started. Not a pretty sight.
Claudio Yacob (hamstring) and Stephane Sessegnon (groin) could return for West Brom, while Rafael (concussion) and Jonny Evans (calf) could possibly do the same for United.
Player to watch: Robin van Persie (Man United)
The Dutchman overcame a bout of sickness to play in Holland’s 2-0 defeat to France in midweek so will be looking to make up for that disappointment this weekend. And if previous form is anything to go by, he may do just that, having scored four goals in his last six games against West Brom. The problems come about if and when Van Persie doesn’t score, with the stats suggesting he doesn’t contribute in others ways, as he once did for Arsenal. Against Stoke, RVP only successfully completed 10 passes, 16 away to Palace and 11 versus Arsenal. Wayne Rooney, on the other hand, made 61 successful passes in just the Stoke game alone.
One way to read these stats is that Rooney plays in a deeper position so will naturally make more passes. Another way to read them is that when the side is struggling, Rooney will look to get on the ball and make things happen, while Van Persie will remain waiting on receiving a goal-scoring pass in the box, as his movement against Fulham would suggest. It could be argued that if United are going to stand any chance of finishing at least fifth, they’re going to need more from their No.20. Either that or he has to continue scoring.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- United 1-2 WBA (Prem, Sep 13)
- WBA 5-5 United (Prem, May 13)
- United 2-0 WBA (Prem, Dec 12)
- United 2-0 WBA (Prem, Mar 12)
- WBA 1-2 United (Prem, Aug 11)
For those wanting to be harsh, it could be said this is a battle of two managers; one who should no longer have his job (Moyes) and one who shouldn’t have got the job in the first place (Mel).
The decision to place Mel in charge at The Hawthorns has looked increasingly strange in the wake of the half-baked backing he recently received from the board, with talk of “frustration” “transition” and “soul searching”. A good old fashioned ‘vote of confidence’ it wasn’t.
On the other hand, United seem determined to stick by Moyes whatever happens this season, which is commendable because having made the decision to hire him, it makes sense to afford him a little patience. Mel will be hoping to receive a similar courtesy between now and May.
Facts and figures
- United have won 13 of their 17 trips to bottom-six teams since 2011/12.
- West Brom have drawn 7 of their last 11 home games including six 1-1s.
- 6 of West Brom’s 7 home games this season against teams in the top half have had fewer than 3 goals.
- United have scored just 1 first-half goals in their last 9 matches.
- United are unbeaten in their last 12 second halves (W7 D5 L0) and their last 3 away wins have all come after drawing the first half.
Another top half side and another 1-1 draw from the Baggies.