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Michael Taylor 31st Dec 2010 - 11:55

Back the Baggies to keep United at bay

Not for the first time Manchester United head into the New Year on top of the football pyramid but if anybody thinks 2011 will be a parade for Sir Alex's men then they should think again.

Despite going unbeaten for the opening eighteen games of the Premier League season and having two games in hand on their closest rival and cross-city neighbours City, this United side has still got a lot to do to prove it's championship candidacy.

Old Trafford might be a fortress but away from the Theatre of Dreams the harsh reality is a team that's struggling to win - the latest example coming at Birmingham on Tuesday night.

They've managed to take three points away from just a single away ground this year and that came right back in October when Javi Hernandez snatched victory with a last gasp goal at Stoke in a game that could have gone either way.

Perhaps more worryingly, at St Andrew's on Tuesday, Birmingham were the ones who showed the most spirit and had the lion's share of luck as Lee Bowyer dubiously poked home in the final minute to hand the hosts a hard fought draw.

The loss of concentration might just work as the kick up the backside they need though ahead of a potentially troublesome trip to the Hawthorns on New Year's Day.

St Andrew's aside, defensively problems are few and far between aside from Edwin van der Sar's retirement edging nearer. The real issue is a blindingly obvious lack of firepower.

Wayne Rooney's impotence is perhaps the biggest reason for so few away goals but the lack of anybody stepping forward and filling the England man's shoes cannot be ignored.

Hernandez has chipped in with some vital strikes, Vidic and Berbatov have two a piece but just eleven goals from eight games isn't the United way and nobody will know better than Fergie that this could be their downfall later in the year.

West Brom will be hungry to try to exploit this deficiency and as the Premier League has shown this season it's not out of the question that they can topple one of the big boys.

The Baggies made Everton look stupid at Goodison, romping to a 4-1 win, while the famous 3-2 win over Arsenal at the Emirates back in September signified they mean business on their top flight return.

They also remain the only team to have left Old Trafford with a point this season after mounting an incredible second half fightback after trailing 2-0 before even half an hour was up - they even had chances to go on and take all three points.

In recent weeks their form has taken something of a nose dive with damaging losses to Blackburn, Bolton and Aston Villa dropping them to 14th but they've shown enough that we should expect them to go for the win.

Peter Odemwingie needs to get firing again after being kept quiet by both Blackburn and Bolton but more importantly they need to sort it out defensively after Blackburn found the net three times on Tuesday.

The real key to success has to be keeping Dimitar Berbatov quiet.

The often infuriating Bulgarian is right at the top of him game, scoring eight of the last eleven goals for his team and it'll be him that's charged with finding the gaps in the WBA defence - one weakened by the suspension Gabriel Tamas serves after Tuesday's sending off.

In his current vein of form though Berbatov is close to unstoppable and looks superb value at 3/1 to score first or 4/5 to notch past Scott Carson at anytime, however I find it impossible to predict a goal fest for the Red Devils.

The Baggies have conceded just 13 goals at home this season and while they're not rampant in front of their own fans they've generally been able to contain any visitors.

The likes of Paul Scharner for the hosts could be absolutely vital, especially if they're struggling to make an impact from open play on Vidic and Ferdinand.

The former Wigan boy is a constant threat at set pieces and always good value at 7/1 to score anytime, while he'll need to be at his very best in his own half if a shock is to occur.

I'm not sure a shock is on the cards however another draw looks highly likely and absolutely massive at 3/1.

The necessity for West Brom is keeping it tight at the back, if they achieve this a draw is easily possible with 1-1 looking the best bet at 15/2.


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