The Premier League begins in earnest this weekend and West Brom and Manchester United will be hoping make a good start at the Hawthorns on Sunday. Manchester United captured their 19th league title last May, while West Brom finished a respectable 11th.
West Brom have had a relatively quiet summer transfer wise, with Ben Foster, Shane Long and Zoltan Gera being the key acquisitions.
Ben Foster is an upgrade on former goalkeeper Scott Carson and should help bolster a defence that conceded the second most goals in the Premier League last year.
Shane Long was prolific in the Championship, but could experience growing pains in the Premier League. The Irishman has the potential to form a quality partnership with Peter Odemwingie, who was one of last year’s bargain signings. The Nigerian scored 15 league goals after joining West Brom for £1m from Lokomotiv Moscow. Unfortunately, Odemwingie will likely miss Sunday’s match through injury.
Zoltan Gera adds guile to a midfield that already contains the impressive Chris Brunt, who provided four goals and 11 assists to West Brom’s cause last season.
Manchester United have added to their ranks with the signings of David De Gea, Phil Jones and Ashley Young. De Gea has the difficult task of replacing Edwin Van der Sar, while Phil Jones is the long term heir to Nemanja Vidic. The signing of Young gives United a dangerous trio of wingers, which also includes Nani and Antonio Valencia.
Rooney, Nani and Young look to be United’s form players entering the season and could combine to devastating effect in the coming months.
Last year these two teams produced two competitive encounters. At Old Trafford in October, United seemed to have the game wrapped up after scoring two first half goals through Javier Hernandez and Nani. Within ten minutes of the interval, however, the sides were level.
Patrice Evra turned the ball into his own net in the 50th minute, before an uncharacteristic mistake from Edwin Van der Sar allowed Tchoyi to level for the Baggies.
On New Year’s Day, the Manchester side needed a late Hernandez goal to seal a 2-1 victory in a match West Brom dominated. Wayne Rooney gave United a 3rd minute lead, but the Baggies equalised through a stunning 14th minute shot from James Morrison.
West Brom continued to dominate the game, holding possession for 62 per cent of the game attempting 17 shots to United’s five. Odemwingie then missed a penalty in the 62nd minute. All the Baggies’ good work was undone in the 75th minute, however, as Hernandez impressively headed home from a Rooney corner.
West Brom’s pre-season saw mixed results. The Baggies’ tour of the USA started with a disappointing 2-1 defeat to San Jose Earthquakes, but also produced 4-2 and 3-2 victories over Ventura County Fusion and Portland Timbers respectively.
An inexperienced side then suffered a surprise 3-0 defeat to Rochdale, before Hodgson’s first team drew 2-2 with Southampton a day later. A 1-0 victory over Bristol City preceded score draws against Olympiakos and Parma.
United enjoyed a free-scoring pre-season. Ferguson’s charges recorded wins against New England Revolution, Seattle Sounders, Chicago Fire, MLS All-Stars, New York Cosmos and Barcelona, scoring 26 goals in the process. The Red Devils then recovered from a 2-0 half-time deficit against their city rivals in the Community Shield to win 3-2.
Rooney has been in great goal scoring form, notching up five goals during United’s American tour. Nani has also responded to the signing of Ashley Young by producing some impressive performances.
United were particularly impressive in the second half against City, with Ashley Young, Nani, Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley combining to devastating effect. Nani’s first goal was reminiscent of Barcelona, with quick-fire, close quarters passing leading to a deft finish from the Portuguese winger.
West Brom will be buoyed by their performances against United last year, but the Baggies will find it difficult to get a result on Sunday. An in-form United will undoubtedly be favourites to begin the season with a victory.