BIRMINGHAM - Manchester United heads to West Bromwich Albion tomorrow at the start of a period that will determine if their disastrous season spirals completely out of control. As well as being knocked out of the League Cup semi-finals on penalties, David Moyes’ side have lost six games since the turn of the year. The latest indignity came when Greek side Olympiakos swept to a 2-0 win over United in the first leg of the Champions League last 16 on February 25.
United have been inactive since then, but they face a busy period over the next weeks and there is little margin for error for the beleaguered Premier League champions.
After tomorrow’s game at The Hawthorns, they host Liverpool in the Premier League before the return leg against Olympiakos, while a derby against Manchester City looms towards the end of March.
With wins in those fixtures, the complexion of the entire campaign could change, but Moyes would face significant pressure if his team’s erratic form continued in such key contests.
Moyes’ side, who are 12 points off the Champions League places with 11 games left going into the weekend, have been relatively strong on their travels, with 24 of their total of 45 points coming away from home. But the Baggies shocked Moyes' men with a 2-1 win at Old Trafford in September and the United manager will hope that his injury situation has cleared up a little over the break after the defeat in Athens.
Utility man Phil Jones has been absent with a hip problem, while centre-back Jonny Evans has been out with a calf injury. United’s Mexican striker Javier Hernandez is doubtful with a knee problem he sustained in his country's goalless draw with Nigeria in midweek.
Hernandez, who has started just four Premier League matches this season, is set for tests on the injury and is likely to be absent. Portugal winger Nani has not played since December 7 due to a hamstring problem but Spaniard Juan Mata returns to contention after being cup-tied for the game at Olympiakos. Former Chelsea midfielder Mata has been pleased with the way he has settled in during his first weeks after arriving in January.
“I feel really happy. Life in Manchester is good,” Mata said. “I have already found a house, I have a new home and I am trying to know different places around the city. It is a really nice city to live in. It is quiet, relaxing and you can be focused on what is important ? playing football.” West Brom defender Jonas Olsson has urged his side to follow West Ham’s example by stringing a sequence of wins together to reach the safety of mid-table.
Albion have not played in two weeks and have held talks following a difference of opinion with new head coach Pepe Mel, who is still without a victory at The Hawthorns. “I think the recent performances have been good for the most part but they haven't been good enough to see us getting three points,” Olsson said.
“We need to perform over 90 minutes. There are a lot of games where we have played well for one half or for 60 minutes but have switched off a little bit in other spells and got punished. “In the Premier League, you can't do that but there are a lot of teams down there with us also having tough seasons. For example, it is only recently that West Ham has started to pick up. Experience is going to count for a lot. What we have in this squad is a lot of Premier League experience ? and a lot of experience of being in a situation like this.”