Weblog: The football punter

Red Devils can grind 
out Hawthorns victory

Premier League
Sky Sports Premier League, 2.15pm Sunday

SIR ALEX FERGUSON'S Manchester United career ended with an extraordinary 5-5 draw at West Brom in May 2013 but the latest meeting between the teams at The Hawthorns could be short on drama.

United, outclassed by Premier League leaders Manchester City last weekend, responded with a dour 1-0 win over Bournemouth with Romelu Lukaku, who scored a hat-trick for West Brom in that ten-goal thriller, notching the winner.

New Baggies boss Alan Pardew seems happy to build from the back, overseeing goalless draws with Crystal Palace and Liverpool as well as a 1-0 defeat at lowly Swansea in his first three games in charge.

And West Brom’s wait for a first goal under Pardew may well continue given United’s ability to grind out victories and the formidable performances of their brilliant goalkeeper David de Gea.

The Spain international was sensational in the 3-1 win at Arsenal, had no chance with two close-range finishes against City last Sunday, and kept out a lively Bournemouth attacking unit at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

Pardew admitted that he would be content with a point and a repeat of the spoiling job they did at Anfield in midweek would surely satisfy the Baggies.

They had to work hard to subdue Liverpool, for whom Philippe Coutinho, Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino all started, and United could punish any weary legs.

It is unlikely to be pretty – former United men Ben Foster and Jonny Evans are part of a solid home back five while Pardew has no shortage of midfield protection with veteran Gareth Barry, Jake Livermore and Claudio Yacob all available.

Paul Pogba serves the final game of a three-match ban for his red card at Arsenal and the Frenchman’s absence robs United’s midfield of a bit of magic.

But Jose Mourinho has enough attacking options to break down the massed home defence.

Lukaku’s lean spell in front of goal ended with strikes against CSKA Moscow and the Cherries in his last three games while Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford and Juan Mata are threats in behind the front man and Zlatan Ibrahimovic is waiting in the wings.

United have kept clean sheets in nine of their 12 league wins this season and splitting stakes between a 1-0 and 2-0 away win looks better value than lumping on the visitors at odds-on.

West Brom kicked off the season under Tony Pulis with back-to-back 1-0 wins over Bournemouth and Burnley but they have scored only ten times in 15 subsequent league matches.

Pardew will have to improve that goalscoring record but the short-term focus is on defence and the Baggies may struggle to beat De Gea, a man who laughs in the face of expected-goals stats.

Manchester United to win 1-0
1pt 11-2 bet365
Manchester United to win 2-0
1pt 6-1 general

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