MANCHESTER, May 1- Robin van Persie could make his first start since February against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday as Manchester United attempt to consolidate their place in the Premier League’s top four.
Dutch striker van Persie came on as a substitute in United’s 3-0 defeat by Everton last Sunday, his first appearance after suffering an ankle injury, and is in contention to face the Baggies at Old Trafford.
United could be without captain Wayne Rooney after he suffered a knee injury at Goodison Park, which would increase the prospects of Van Persie or Radamel Falcao playing in attack for United.
Van Persie, 31, has scored 10 goals in 25 league appearances this season but only two of those strikes have come in 2015.
As well as questions over Rooney’s availability, United manager Louis van Gaal has concerns over the fitness of three defensive players. Holding midfielder Michael Carrick, and centre-backs Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones all missed the match against Everton and are doubts for the visit of West Brom.
United’s defeat at Everton followed a 1-0 loss against champions-elect Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in their previous outing.
It was the first time they had suffered back-to-back defeats during van Gaal’s tenure and gave fifth-place Liverpool the chance to close the gap.
Luckily for United, the Reds spurned that opportunity, losing 1-0 at Hull City on Tuesday, leaving van Gaal’s fourth-placed side seven points clear of their bitter rivals.
United need six points from their final four matches to guarantee a top-four finish and defender Chris Smalling was confident the players would respond well after their two recent defeats.
“We’ve got four big games now in which we’ve got to make sure we were better than on Sunday,” Smalling said.
“We’ll be eager to put this right. I think we’ll see a different Manchester United against West Brom.”
– ‘Points to prove’ –
West Brom left-back Chris Brunt was adamant the Baggies still had plenty to play for this term, despite virtually rubber-stamping their Premier League status with last weekend’s 0-0 draw against Liverpool.
The Baggies head to Old Trafford seven points clear of the relegation zone in what looks set to be another successful escape act involving manager Tony Pulis.
The Welshman has turned around Albion’s fortunes since his arrival in January, but Brunt said the Midlands club’s players were now playing for their futures, with Pulis expected to carry out major surgery on his squad during the close season.
“With the new gaffer (manager) here I’m sure he will have a big say in what goes on over the summer,” Brunt said.
“Regardless of what anybody thinks about whether we’re safe or not, everybody has still got points to prove over the last few weeks of the season, whether they want to stay or want to leave.”
Brunt, usually a winger, added he was relishing his new role on the left of the West Midlands side’s defence.
“When you’re part of the back four and you get a clean sheet it’s enjoyable and over the last eight years it’s not something I’ve been too concerned about.
“Obviously, it’s always nice to get clean sheets but doing it as part of the back four is really enjoyable.
“I will do whatever I can to help out, and if the gaffer sees me as a left-back then I will get my head down and get on with it.”