Manchester United has built itself a nice, seven-point cushion atop the table ahead of its rivals, Manchester City. But that lead will be put to the test when the Red Devils face West Bromwich Albion, currently tied with Tottenham and Everton for fourth place in the league.
The Red Devils haven't surprised too many folks with their early play, as most pundits expected the addition of Robin van Persie to shoot United to the top of the table. West Brom's play has been far more surprising, especially considering the team finished in 10th place a year ago.
A game at Old Trafford is always a handful for opponents, so West Brom has its work cut out in this one. Still, this is one of the weekend's most intriguing games in Premier League play, and it should be one to watch.
Where: Old Trafford, Manchester, England
When: Saturday, Dec. 29 at 10 a.m. ET
Watch: ESPN2; ESPN Deportes; WatchESPN
What They're Saying
Think a lead is safe against Manchester United?
Think again. From Laurie Whitwell of the Daily Mail:
Nine times Manchester United have gone behind in the Barclays Premier League. Eight times they have subsequently tasted victory.
It is a remarkable run which has earned Sir Alex Ferguson's side 24 points from losing positions.
Perilous defending has time and again been seen and raised by United's swashbuckling attack.
Yesterday's 4-3 win over Newcastle was the latest example and means at halfway United, despite conceding 28 goals (more than in entire title-winning campaigns of seasons past), sit seven points clear at the top.
Player to Watch: Robin van Persie, Manchester United
The striker is always a player to watch, as he leads the Red Devils with 16 goals on the season in all competitions. But with Wayne Rooney now out of action for a few weeks with a torn ligament in his knee, van Persie takes on an even greater importance.
For one, it remains to be seen how van Persie will interact playing regularly with either Javier Hernandez or Danny Welbeck. Will he reprise the second striker role that Rooney regularly accompanies, will Manchester United play a more traditional 4-4-2 or will van Persie slot into a single-striker role?
One way or another, he'll once again be the key man in United's attack and the player you won't want to take your eyes off of in the attacking third.
Key Matchup: Shane Long and West Brom Attack vs. Manchester United Defense
West Brom is unlikely to beat United in an open and flowing shootout—the Red Devils have scored 20 more goals on the season. And in that same vein, it's unlikely that West Brom will simply shut out United.
But the one weakness on the Red Devils this season has been the team's back line, and if Nemanja Vidic is once again held out of the lineup, United's back line will remain vulnerable.
Remember, United has given up 28 goals on the season, more than any other team in the top 10 on the Premier League table.
Shane Long, Romelu Lukaku, Peter Odemwingie and Zoltan Gera need to take advantage of that fact. West Brom is unlikely to win a 4-3 shootout over the Red Devils, but it is more than capable of winning a controlled, defensive 2-1 win. The chances may not be plentiful, but they have to take advantage of them when they're given the chance.
Because if there is one thing we've learned this year, it's that United's back line is prone to giving up juicy chances throughout a match.
West Brom will keep it interesting, but United is too darn good to lose this one at home. The Red Devils take it, 2-1.
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