Chris Smalling wants Manchester United to prove their attacking prowess against West Brom at Old Trafford on Saturday.
Louis van Gaal’s side have scored just twice in their last five games in all competitions, with their previous two Premier League outings against Manchester City and Crystal Palace ending goalless.
As Van Gaal has been quick to point out, United have made progress in defence – keeping more clean sheets (7) than any other team in the league this season – but are lacking a cutting edge at the opposite end of the pitch.
Considering Tony Pulis’ West Brom side have not conceded in four of their five Premier League away matches in 2015-16, United could be set for another disappointing afternoon.
And while Smalling acknowledges it will be difficult to break Albion down, he still feels United have the creative players needed to make an impact in the final third.
“Tony Pulis has made them very solid and they don’t concede many goals, so we’re going to have to break them down,” he told the club’s official website.
“If we can get an early goal, I think you may see the floodgates open.”
Wayne Rooney was on target in United’s 1-0 Champions League win over CSKA Moscow on Tuesday, the England captain now level with Denis Law on 237 goals for the club.
That header also ended a barren run that had seen Van Gaal’s team go 404 minutes without scoring – a streak that had drawn criticism of the tactics deployed by the Dutchman.
Rooney will have fond memories of coming up against West Brom in the Premier League, having played a role in 11 goals (seven scored by him, four assists) in his past seven starts against them.
But Pulis has seen his side defeated just twice in their last nine top-flight fixtures on the road. Chris Brunt, who should recover from a knock in time to feature against United, praised the role of team spirit in guiding them down that path.
“Over the last few weeks we’ve found a bit of form together, but obviously the result was disappointing on Saturday [a 3-2 defeat against Leicester City],” he is quoted as saying by the Birmingham Mail.
“We can trust each other to do the jobs to the best of our ability and that’s all you can ask for anywhere on the pitch.”
West Brom, who were 1-0 winners at Old Trafford in last season’s corresponding fixture, will be without former United goalkeeper Ben Foster (knee), but Jonny Evans and Darren Fletcher are expected to play.
Antonio Valencia (foot), James Wilson (knock) and Paddy McNair (abdomen) are doubts, while long-term absentee Luke Shaw will not feature.
Matteo Darmian will also be unavailable as he serves a suspension for an accumulation of yellow cards.
Key Opta stats:
– Manchester United have kept four clean sheets in their last five Premier League matches but failed to score in three of the last four.
– Wayne Rooney has scored seven goals and assisted four more in his last seven Premier League starts against West Brom.
– West Brom have lost just one of their last five Premier League games against Manchester United (W2 D2 L1). Those two victories have come in their last two trips to Old Trafford.
– Manchester United have lost just one of their last 13 Premier League games at Old Trafford (W9 D3 L1), but that defeat was against West Brom.
– Only one team has managed to score against West Brom in the Baggies’ five Premier League away trips this season (Crystal Palace).
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