Manchester United are seven points clear at the top of the Premier League as 2012 reaches its conclusion and will be hopeful of maintaining that advantage when they host West Bromwich Albion on Saturday (3pm GMT).
United have won 15 matches, drawn one and lost three in their first 19 of the season. They have accumulated 46 points and pulled well clear of local rivals City and third-placed Chelsea at the league’s summit.
The latest of those 15 victories came in a thrilling 4-3 win over Newcastle at Old Trafford on Boxing Day, United thrice coming from behind to level the scores before Javier Hernandez (pictured) scored a 90th minute winner to secure all three points.
It was the seventh occasion this season that a Man Utd home match has ended with four or more goals. It was a match that again displayed the club’s majesty in attack and ineptness in defence in almost equal measure.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s men are by some distance the Premier League’s highest scorers, with 48 goals to their credit. Even without the injured Wayne Rooney – expected to be out for two to three weeks – and Ashley Young they were able to slice through the Newcastle defence and create enough chances to score the four goals that took them to victory.
Robin Van Persie scored his 13th of the campaign – his fourth in United’s last five matches – while Hernandez increased his own total to six. But defenders, too, continue to chip in with their fair share of United’s goals, with Johnny Evans scoring his third of the season and Patrice Evra his fourth.
United have had 15 different scorers in the league so far this season, offering a goal threat throughout their squad that has seen them fail to score on just two occasions. Such prolific scoring has, however, been necessitated by the fragility of the defence, who have conceded 28 goals.
Defensive deficiencies were again displayed on Boxing Day. David de Gea was at fault for a poor parry straight to James Perch on Newcastle’s opening goal. Evans put through his own net for the second. Newcastle far too easily worked themselves into space out wide in the build up to the third.
Individual positional mistakes are partly to blame, but there also appears to be a collective lack of organisation that makes it relatively easy for opposition teams to craft opportunities. A lack of protection from midfield also contributes, especially when an immobile midfield, such as the one on Boxing Day that featured both Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, is selected.
The team hoping to take advantage on Saturday will be West Brom, who have enjoyed a superb first half of the season and are sitting sixth in the table with 33 points from 10 wins, three draws and six defeats.
Steve Clarke has performed above expectations in his first head coach role, making little more than subtle alterations to the style of play favoured by his predecessor Roy Hodgson, but nevertheless impressing with canny substitutions and tactical modifications during matches.
West Brom’s 4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1 system has provided a solid base upon which to build a successful campaign. Two banks of four help them keep things tight out of possession and once the ball is won they spring forward quickly, utilising the pace of the lone striker and two wide players to get into good advanced positions.
Strikers Romelo Lukaku and Shane Long lead the scoring charts for the Baggies with six and five goals respectively. There have also been strong contributions from Peter Odemwingie and Zoltan Gera, with four apiece, and James Morrison, who has been very impressive.
West Brom currently have the joint sixth-best defensive record in the league, with 23 conceded to date, but are yet to keep a clean sheet away from the Hawthorns. Indeed, 16 of those 23 have been conceded in their nine away matches, compared to seven in 10 at home.
The Baggies followed an excellent run of four consecutive victories in November with three consecutive defeats. They have bounced back in recent weeks, drawing with West Ham before recording successive wins over Norwich and Queen’s Park Rangers to bring themselves back in top six contention.
Man Utd v West Bromwich Albion Betting Tips
With their swift counter-attacking style, West Brom appear well placed to take advantage of United’s defensive deficiencies and should be fancied to score at least once.
United have, however, shown time and time again this season that they have the necessary offensive capabilities to emerge victorious even after conceding numerous goals. We believe they will do so once again on Saturday.