Man United should have the depth, despite injuries, to beat West Brom
Manchester United take on West Brom this weekend in what will be just their second Premier League game in five weeks. Their fixture calendar is jam-packed thanks to their progression in the Europa League, but Saturday presents them with yet another must-win game.
United haven’t won many of their must-win games this season, boasting a better record away from home than at Old Trafford, so fans possibly won’t approach this match very optimistically. On the back of beating Arsenal 3-1, which allowed United to leapfrog the London team into fifth, West Brom will be full of confidence over this weekend’s fixture.
With Phil Jones and Chris Smalling both injured, the former possibly for the rest of the season, Jose Mourinho will have to put a plan in place to limit the Baggies’ threat from corners, something Arsene Wenger’s men did not heed in their recent defeat.
Marcos Rojo is fit but played 90 minutes in both of Argentina’s World Cup qualifying games during the international break. Having travelled between Bolivia and his homeland, as well as obviously from Manchester to Argentina and back, he might not be in the greatest condition on Saturday. In his last start, Mourinho gave Rojo a banana when on the pitch as Mourinho tried to highlight how worn out his squad is, so it’s difficult to predict whether the Argentinian will play given that there’s another Premier League game on Tuesday away to Everton.
Antonio Valencia is possibly another defensive doubt and like Rojo, played both full games for his country this week. Paraguay and Ecuador were the locations of his matches so he might need recovery time too. In his Friday press conference, Mourinho claimed they were ready to play even if tired, so that may be some positive news. Yet it wouldn’t be a surprise if one of them was given a rest.
United are thin on the ground for West Brom in defence. It may well be a rare opportunity for the likes of Daley Blind and Luke Shaw. More exciting for fans would be the inclusion of Tim Fosu-Mensah, whose chances of playing only increased when Paul Pogba injured his hamstring against Rostov in the Champions League and Ander Herrera picked up a suspension for the bizarre red card at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea.
Fosu-Mensah is a popular figure among fans and they’ve been disappointed to see how regularly he’s been overlooked by Mourinho this season. However, with his ability to play in defence and midfield, Saturday may be a great opportunity for him to get back in to the starting team and show what he is capable of.
The youngster has played in just seven games all season, which is three less than he featured in last season, and he only made his debut on the final day of February. Fosu-Mensah’s last game this season came two months ago in the FA Cup against Wigan; it might be a case of throwing him in at the deep end to give him a start this weekend, but Mourinho may be left with little other choice.
Fosu-Mensah isn’t the only youngster desperate to prove his worth, with Marcus Rashford playing in his third game of the three for which Zlatan Ibrahimovic is suspended. On the back of an international break that saw his stock continued to rise, with him creating the most chances and completing the most dribbles for England in their World Cup qualifying game against Lithuania despite only playing for the final half hour, he should hit the ground running.
Ibrahimovic usually plays every minute of every league game usually, so this may be Rashford’s last chance for the rest of the season to show what he is capable of when playing up front. Nearly all of his appearances for Mourinho so far have come from wide positions but Rashford regards himself as a striker and needs to show the form of last season.
The manager has insisted that the focus should be on those available, not those who are injured or suspended, although he clearly was keen to draw attention to how many players United will be without. Making excuses before the game has even begun is not an unusual occurrence where Mourinho is concerned though.
United have a squad that should be able to cope with the absences though and if they want to guarantee their place in next season’s Champions League, rather than gamble on winning the Europa League, they have to beat West Brom on Saturday.