Evra makes case for defence
Patrice Evra feels his Manchester United side are stronger defensively this season despite keeping only a fourth clean sheet on Saturday.
Given the Red Devils had 10 shut-outs by the same point last term and are currently only five adrift of the 33 goals they conceded in the entire campaign, it seems an odd thing to say.
Even Evra admits it is bizarre. However, the Frenchman is adamant, and, even though almost all his team-mates, and most importantly his manager, have expressed concern at the manner of United's defending, he has none.
"The confidence of keeping a clean sheet is good," he said.
"I am a defender. I don't like to concede goals. But I am more bothered about winning games and I know when we have a big game the defence will be strong.
"Maybe it sounds bizarre but I feel we were weaker defensively last year even if this season we have conceded more goals.
"I know sometimes it is about concentration and we can do much better but it does seems the opponent scores every time they shoot. I am not worried about the goals."
For all the doubts expressed about their performances at the back, United evidently have enormous strength at the other end of the field.
Even with Wayne Rooney injured and both Javier Hernandez and Robin van Persie rested, United were able to establish a winning position against a West Brom outfit who can name Liverpool, Everton and Chelsea amongst their victims this season.
When Sir Alex Ferguson's men faltered, Van Persie's contribution from the bench was to score his 17th United goal to wrap up yet another win which ensures they enter 2013 seven points clear of Manchester City.
"Robin is impressive," said Evra.
"He reminds me of Ruud van Nistelrooy. He came on and scored that goal. He just has to keep going."
If there is a hidden danger from Saturday's success, it came from a stamina sapping surface, which survived a pitch inspection prior to kick off and, according to Ferguson, left Michael Carrick "running on memory".
It surely means a significant number of changes can be anticipated for Tuesday's visit to Wigan, with the outfield players who have started all United's Festive fixtures so far - Evra, Carrick, Jonny Evans and Antonio Valencia - the most obvious casualties.
"I am lucky to play a lot of games," said Evra, who was starting his 22nd game of the season.
"Until I can't run, I will ask to play. I will rest when I retire. That is the name of my game."
In previous years, an encounter with Wigan would be regarded as a comfortable three points no matter what team Ferguson turned out.
All that changed last April when Shaun Maloney scored the only goal to trigger the collapse that eventually saw City crowned champions.
"Tuesday is important," said Evra.
"When we lost there last year we didn't show anything. It was a really bad performance.
"This year we don't have any excuses. We know what to expect."
As for West Brom, they can approach a meeting with Fulham in positive mood despite the result and in 19-year-old midfielder George Thorne, they have a player of immense promise after being pitched straight in following his impressive loan spell at Peterborough.
"George only came back from Peterborough yesterday and though I had other options, I decided to throw him in," said Baggies boss Steve Clarke.
"He was frustrated because he couldn't get in our team, so we let him go out to get match experience and play competitive games in the Championship.
"We got some great reports on him. I knew he could go in there and play and he did very well."