How things change. The last time United traveled to this part of the country, they conceded five goals and scored just as many during 90 incredible minutes and yet the game itself was nothing more than a mere backdrop to what was the day’s main event – Sir Alex Ferguson’s last ever game in charge of Manchester United.
As the travelling Reds basked in the May sunshine, incessenatly serenading their departing manager throughout the game, we all had the impression of witnessing a historic moment, one that few will ever forget and which has now tinged with melancholy, given the dismal turn things have taken since that day.
Needless to say tomorrow will be a much more subdued occasion and there definitely won’t be five goals put past West Bromwich, given that United have not scored more than two goals in the same game since Boxing Day and have found the net just 43 times this season, 24 times less than they had done at the same stage last year.
The positive performance at Crystal Palace was washed away by the horrific display in Athens, the nadir in a season of remarkable lows, and a trip to the Midlands to face a side without a win in the last eight suddenly doesn’t look as straightforward as it should, particularly considering that West Brom have already got the better of United once this season.
The media tide looks to have turned against David Moyes, with many newspapers choosing to highlight United’s tactical deficiencies and horrendously dire football, while until a few weeks ago they would have been happy to point out that the United manager needed time to turn his club’s fortunes around.
A lot of fans have given up too, not on the club but on the manager. Moyes’ inexplicable decision to persevere with Tom Cleverley, Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia is simply diabolical and we can only hope to see the trio benched tomorrow in favour of Marouane Fellaini, Juan Mata and Adnan Januzaj.
It remains to be seen whether Nemanja Vidic will retain the armband after deciding to swap mid-table mediocrity in England for mid-table mediocrity in Italy but, as captain or not, Vida is likely to start alongside Chris Smalling and one feels United might have their work cut out against Victor Anichebe, the sort of man who always seems to enjoy bullying United’s back four.
Wayne Rooney was awful for England, Robin Van Persie felt sick while away with Holland and Javier Hernandez limped off the pitch after Mexico’s friendly with Nigeria, so things do not look overly bright up-front either.
United are 14 points adrift of Arsenal and Liverpool with a game in hand on both and 12 points behind fourth-placed City – but will have played two more games than them by the end of the weekend – meaning that we can all put the dream of clinching a Champions League spot to bed once and for all.
However, a response is needed. Liverpool travel to Old Trafford next week and welcoming them on the back of a rare win might just be enough to propel the team to a decent result against them and instil some much-needed confidence ahead of the return leg against Olympiacos three days later.
On the other hand, a defeat tomorrow could really see things get complicated for Moyes.
Probable starting XI: