The Big Match Preview – West Brom (A)

We go into Saturday afternoon at the Hawthorns in a completely different state to this time last week, looking for our third win on the bounce and Saido Berahino looking for back to back goals which he most certainly deserves after a strong start to the year.

I dream of Saido scoring a last minute winner before shushing the crowd who will boo him from first whistle to last and finally getting his own redemption. But this game is far more important than our contingent of former West Brom players getting one over on a former team, momentum is needed after a mixed start to the season and potentially easier games than this coming up.

West Brom are a mixed bag. You can’t read too much into their 7-1 win against QPR because it’s simply a one off, with other results carrying far more relevance when we try and figure out what to expect. They sit 11th in the table, two points more than ourselves after a draw, two wins and the same amount of losses, with their win against QPR balancing out an opening day defeat to Bolton in their other home game. So far this season they have favoured a three at the back system with Kieran Gibbs and Matt Phillips operating as wing backs, supporting two up front and Harvey Barnes floating behind as a number 10.

They look very dangerous attacking with width and pace thus far this season so it’s no surprise that they’ve scored a good amount of goals already, especially with Gayle and Rodriguez up front who have the potential to be one of the best partnerships the Championship has seen for a while. Stifling opponents in wider areas could be a struggle for us, particularly down our left where Pieters could really struggle against the pace of Phillips alone, enhancing the importance of James McClean’s inclusion at his old club. Although the two up top and attacking down the wings could cause problems on the face of it, it also enables us to go man for man when defending.

How do we beat them then? Despite having a very good attacking set up including the wing backs, quality is lacking in other areas, particularly central midfield. Jake Livermore has the legs and some ability to be able to break up our play but is devoid of pretty much any serious ability whilst Chris Brunt is finished at this level so matching them up in midfield with the legs and quality of Allen and Etebo should be enough to win the battle in the centre of the pitch. With their central midfield players occupied, a number 10 would be perfect to draw one of the centre backs out from the 3. As harsh as it may seem I think that it has to be Bojan and Berahino or Afobe for this game.

Saido has looked very good floating just off of a main striker but he doesn’t possess the abilities that Bojan does to break defensive lines by beating a man or playing a killer pass but his movement means that they could in fact play together, as they are the two hardest players for the opposition to track. The space created by individuals being sucked into

the midfield creates opportunities for wide players to drag the other centre backs into wide positions that they won’t be comfortable with, allowing runners to cause havoc in the interior channels. I’d be tempted in this game to drop Pieters and opt for either Bauer or Martina at left back to neutralise their pace down the right as Erik is notoriously poor at coping with pace and has had a pretty poor start to the season on the whole. Bauer’s pace and quality could be effective against a slower central defender in those wide areas so I hope to see him from the start as we look to continue our good performances and good results.

Prediction? – 2-1 Stoke.

Written by George Eltringham

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