After an enforced two-week break due to the international calendar, Manchester United return to Premier League action on Saturday afternoon when they welcome West Bromwich Albion to Old Trafford.
United manager José Mourinho will be looking for his team to kick on and keep up the pressure on the top-four as they seek qualification for next season’s Champions League. Currently occupying fifth place in the league four points behind Liverpool but with two games in hand, United could conceivably see the gap increase to seven points if their north-west rivals emerge victorious from the Merseyside derby on Saturday lunchtime.
Mourinho Missing Key Men Aplenty
United will be without talisman and top goalscorer Zlatan Ibrahimović who serves the last of a three-match suspension while Mourinho, who earlier this week voiced his complete opposition to international football friendlies, will also be unable to call on the suspended Ander Herrera while world record signing Paul Pogba and England defenders Phil Jones and Chris Smalling are also all likely to miss out through injury.
West Brom supremo Tony Pulis meanwhile will travel to ‘The Theatre of Dreams’ with an almost full strength squad, winger Matt Phillips and defender Gareth McAuley the only players rated doubtful. Mourinho’s incorrect assertion earlier this week that West Brom had only one player away on international duty in comparison to United’s 14 or 15 may have inspired the Baggies playing staff and support and Pulis will likely use the inadvertent slight on his club as extra motivation on Saturday.
Baggies on Target to Match Best Ever Finish
The Baggies, who were in fact, able to boast six international call-ups, are on course to equal their best-ever finish of eighth achieved four seasons ago. However, with seventh-placed Everton holding a seven-point lead over Pulis’ men with just nine games to go and a gap of seven points separating themselves and ninth-placed Stoke, West Brom will have to put together an impressive sequence of results to improve upon their finish from 2012-13.
Yet the bookmakers, despite United’s sizeable list of absentees and West Brom’s record of two out of three victories at Old Trafford on their last three visits, remain unconvinced of the Baggies chances on Saturday with BetVictor offering them as long as 19/2 to emerge with all three points. There’s little value in backing a United win however with odds varying only between 1/3 and 2/5. More value is to be found in backing them to extend their unbeaten run of 18 league matches courtesy of a draw, currently 17/4 with Unibet.
Premier or Europa League the priority?
A draw could turn out to be very costly for United with the club facing a daunting schedule of seven league matches and a Europa League double-header against Anderlecht in April alone. Currently, the odds of United winning the Europa League are roughly the same as them finishing in the top-four of the Premier League, around the 5/4 with a variety of bookmakers. Yet with United still to travel to top four rivals Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester City and with champions-elect Chelsea due at Old Trafford in mid-April the safest market looks to be a wager on United to win the Europa League, and that’s exactly where I’d place my money given a choice between the two.
Back to Saturday and our prediction for this game? It has to be a both-teams-to-score home win despite Zlatan’s notable absence with odds of 5/2 available from Bet365 amongst others. Alternatively, for those looking for a bigger return, a 2-0 win for United just as they achieved earlier in the season at the Hawthorns is available at tasty odds of 11/2 with the same bookmaker. A tenner on either looks good value from where I’m standing. Best of luck to you whichever way you turn!