|Opposition Preview - West Bromwich Albion
Written by ad_wilkin on Thursday, 23rd Nov 2023 12:24
It’s another trip to the Midlands following the international break for the Super Blues as they take on play off pushers West Bromwich Albion. Albion finished last season in ninth place, three points away from Sunderland in sixth.
Carlos Corberan is the man is charge having replaced Steve Bruce early on last season and he has now had two transfer windows to shape this squad into his mould largely operating in the free transfer and loan market despite rumours of a takeover being close. You’d imagine that if a takeover did happen they’d learn from their Midlands neighbours Birmingham and keep Corberan around.
The Baggies come into this one off the back of a 2-1 defeat at Southampton but having won the previous three (3-1 v Hull, 2-0 v Coventry, 2-0 v QPR).
As a team they rank mid-table for most stats but the key metric that stands out is their on target shots to goals ratio where they rank second, showing that when they do get their chances they are currently taking them. They also put in a lot of crosses and have the second highest ariel duel win percentage.
Alex Palmer is West Brom’s number one. He’s a youth product who has been at the club his whole career. Now at the age of 27 he’s finally claimed a starting berth. He made 23 appearances last season and has started every league game of the current campaign. He’s on –1.73 goals prevented so not performing at his best, although he has saved one out of the three penalties that he’s faced this season.
His back-up is another Albion graduate in Joshua Griffiths. The 22-year old has made 11 appearances for the club, coming in a spell where he replaced Palmer in the middle of last season.
Griffiths kept four clean sheets in those and is being kept around the club to compete for the number one spot this year following League One loans with Fleetwood and then Portsmouth. He faced Town three times in those spells but was unable to keep a clean sheet in any.
Corberan had favoured a back three for the majority of the season but has swapped to a back four for the last two games against Hull and Southampton. At right-back is Darnell Furlong. The right-back/wing-back has only been at the Baggies since July 2019 but has already featured 167 times.
His versatility and athleticism is important to the side with his heatmap from this season showing he gets up and down the pitch with involvements in both penalty areas. Furlong has also made an impact at both ends in other ways this season, conceding a penalty against Middlesbrough but firing in from outside the box against Preston.
Moving inside, the two centre-halves currently in favour are Kyle Bartley and Cedric Kipre. Thirty-two-year-old Bartley has been at the club for five years having joined from Swansea back in 2018 and has notched up 172 appearances.
He’s an experienced defender and usually chips in with at least a couple of goals. He has two already this season including one in the last game against Southampton from all of two yards and will be looking to challenge his record in a Championship season of six back in 2016/17 while playing for Leeds. He is however another player to have conceded a penalty this season.
Alongside him is 26-year-old Ivorian Kipre. He is perhaps a surprise starter given the fact that he was out on loan at Cardiff last season. However, his excellent form for the Bluebirds has continued at the Hawthorns and he’s made himself an essential part of the side, either in the middle of a back three or alongside Bartley.
Kipre tends to be their out ball out of all the defenders with the most passes ranking him 26th of all defenders in the league.
At left-back is Conor Townsend making it three out of the four players in there who were starters for the club when they were relegated from the Premier League.
Townsend has been in and out of the side so far this season, only really being used when Corberan opts for a back four. He started the season quite well be then dropped off and has only been involved in one of the sides seven clean sheets so far this season.
The 30-year-old has, however, made 183 appearances for the side and is an experienced left-back who will be looking to build on his best Championship season (46 appearances, three goals and three assists)
Bartley is a player who because of his age and fitness may not play a full 46-game season. Semi Ajayi is the man waiting in the wings and has replaced Bartley off the bench in the last two games, including Hull where he came on to be yet another defensive goalscorer for West Brom.
The 30-year-old Nigerian, who had a trial with Town back in 2015, has been with the Baggies since 2019 when he signed from Rotherham and is another with Premier League experience, making 33 appearances and scoring two goals during the season they were relegated.
Experience in the backline continues with 35-year-old Erik Pieters, who will be best-known for Premier League spells with Stoke and Burnley. He’s played the majority of his football in the Premier League and has 18 caps for the Netherlands so certainly has an excellent pedigree.
Although he’s played as a left-back for the majority of his career, with it drifts into its twilight years he has made the switch to play as a left-sided centre-back in one of Corberan’s systems. His lack of pace means that is the only place he has featured rather than at left-back and he has dropped out of the team recently with Corberan switching to a back four having started nine in a row prior to that.
To provide further cover in that back line Pipa was signed on loan from Ludogorets this summer. The 25-year-old Spaniard comes with Championship experience following a couple of seasons at Huddersfield between 2020 and 2022 when Corberan was also at the club.
Pipa followed his boss to Greece with Olympiacos and is linking up with him for the third time. He is clearly a player Corberan knows well, trusts and sees as a good back-up option to Furlong in the right-back role. He’s only made one start this season but has come on in both right-back and left-back slots late in games.
West Brom also have former Crystal Palace man Martin Kelly in the squad. The 33-year-old was sent out on loan to Wigan in January last season but picked up a knee injury which he is still recovering from meaning he’s now missed eight months of football. He’s likely to be back in training by the time Town visit the Midlands but it seems very unlikely he’ll get any time on the pitch
I’m putting Matt Phillips in the midfield section, but he’s been successfully converted into an inverted left wing-back this season and in the last couple of games he has played on the left side of a 4-4-2.
Phillips has been at West Brom since 2016 and has made 245 appearances, scoring 31 goals. He missed the end of last season with a leg injury but has come back fit and firing in this one, starting all 16 matches so far and netting three times. He’s always been a big player for the Baggies and has the ability to produce a moment of magic out of nowhere.
On the other side of that midfield four has been arguably West Brom’s best player, Grady Diangana. The Democratic Republic of Congo international has four goal involvements (two goals, two assists) in his last four games and has become Albion's main man, flourishing in his position out of the right flank where he can cut in onto his favoured left foot.
His signing was seen as a coup back in September 2020 when he joined from West Ham following a successful loan spell but has struggled with form and injury at certain points. Despite that he has still made 140 appearances for the club and right now his stock is definitely on the rise again.
Unsurprisingly both Diangana and Phillips have the highest number of dribbles in the side and will look to cut in and overload that backline alongside the strikers.
The Baggies' main holding midfielder, whether they play with a two or a three in there, is Okay Yokuslu. The Turkish international is in his second spell at West Brom.
After a short loan spell from Celta Vigo he the left the Baggies and had another loan stint out at Getafe. Once that had expired, his contract at Celta Vigo was also up and West Brom swooped in to sign him on a free transfer.
He provides that base at midfield and despite not being in the top performers of the league he has solid metrics for tackles, interceptions and duels won without being outstanding. He’s in the same range as Leicester’s Wilfred Ndidi and Cardiff’s Manolos Siopsis for those metrics.
When Corberan opts to play with a two it is one of Alex Mowatt or Nathaniel Chalobah that will partner Yokuslu and if it’s a three both tend to start.
Former Chelsea man Chalobah, elder brother of former Town loanee Trevoh, has failed to live up to his early promise but has become a solid Championship player in spells at Watford, Nottingham Forest, Middlesbrough, Reading, Fulham and West Brom.
He joined the Baggies halfway through last season having not managed to break into the Fulham team following their promotion to the Premier League. He is the more defensive option alongside Yokuslu but still has the ability to pick a pass and has one assist so far this season.
Mowatt brings with him a similar amount of experience with a career that has spanned time at Leeds, Barnsely, West Brom and Middlesbrough where he spent last year on loan. His pre-season form has allowed him to re-establish himself in the team and he is another that is very good form with a goal and an assist to his name so far.
A potential weakness is his retention of possession with a very high 8.1 losses of possession per game so far. This is something that Ipswich could look to exploit if he plays.
The run West Brom have been on is even more impressive considering they’ve done it without one of their key men in John Swift who has been out injured since 6th October. But it’s looking likely the man who has been trialled further forward in the number ten role this season will make his return against the Super Blues.
He was the Baggies' main weapon last season finishing with the highest number of key passes in the league (105). This saw him hit a goal return of six on top of nine assists. He’s always been a player that has hit high single digit numbers in his career with his highest return being 11 goals and 13 assists at Reading in 2021/22.
This season, having been moved furhter forward, his assist numbers have dropped (only one so far) but he has already found the back of the net six times with goals against Swansea, Middlesbrough, Huddersfield, Watford, Sheffield Wednesday and Birmingham making him the Baggies' current top goalscorer. He’s reached that total in only 10 shots so if he does start, closing him down and marking him tightly will be essential.
The depth in midfield comes from Adam Reach and Jayson Molumby. Reach was picked up on a free in 2021 to provide experience and versatility having had good spells at Middlesbrough and Sheffield Wednesday in his Championship career.
Reach is covered left-back, left midfield, centre midfield and a number of other positions in his career. He’s yet to feature this season as he’s currently out with a thigh problem and is looking at a January return.
Molumby is one of the Brighton academy’s many young Irish prospects who is now going into his third season with West Brom, having made an initial loan move permanent in 2022.
He started the season partnering Yokuslu in midfield for the first seven games but then fell out of favour and has had to settle for a place on the bench since then. Only 24 years of age, Molumby already has 22 Ireland caps and provides another solid battling midfield in the centre of the pitch for Albion.
Although more naturally a right winger, Jed Wallace has been playing more centrally this season, either up front or in the number ten role.
He has two goals and three assists and is taking to the new role well, although according to his heat map he still has the tendency to drift out wide to the right.
The 29-year-old Scotsman has captained the club this season having become a key figure since arriving from Millwall in 2022. It was in that spell where he made his name, spending five seasons at the Den and scoring 42 goals in 260 appearances.
He’s failed to hit those numbers at the Hawthorns with eight goals in 66 appearances but will be hoping to improve that this season.
Playing alongside Wallace in a front two for the last couple of games has been Brandon Thomas Asante.
Asante is an MK Dons youth product who made his breakthrough at Salford with 30 goals in 126 appearances. West Brom signed him for £300,000 in August 2022 and he repaid them with seven goals in 33 appearances in his first season.
He’s pacy and powerful and covers the pitch well. He has been a bit wasteful this season with his four goals scored lower than his 4.53 xG, but he is certainly the sort of profile of striker that has caused Town problems in these types of games before.
Those two have been playing out of necessity but Corberan will be hopeful of having two of his other three options in that area back for the game against Town.
The one who will not be back is 23-year-old American Daryl Dike who is out until December with an Achilles injury suffered against Stoke. Dike was a big money signing for around £7 million in January 2022, joining from US side Orlando City having scored 11 goals in 19 games in the MLS.
His first half-season in the Championship saw him earn rave reviews and score seven goals in 23 games. He’s another striker who looks to bully his defenders with his strength, pace and all-round game and will be a big miss.
Another young striker who joined the ranks at the Hawthorns in the summer is Josh Maja. Maja has taken an interesting career path having burst onto the scene at Sunderland and his career has been more documented than most as he featured heavily in the Netflix show Sunderland Til I Die.
He left Sunderland in January 2019 to join Girondins Bordeaux and scored 29 goals in 93 appearances over in France. During his time there he had loan spells back in England with Fulham and then Stoke but never really got going for either side.
Maja was available on a free this summer and will have been seen as a risk-free option for the Baggies. He made five appearances off of the bench at the start of the season before suffering an ankle injury and will be looking to build up his fitness once again.
The final player in the forward positions is Jeremy Sarmiento, who has come off the bench in the last two games against Hull and Southampton having recovered from his own injury issues.
The 21-year-old Ecuadorian is on loan from Brighton where he got some minutes last season in the Premier League. The feeling is clearly that regular Championship football will be of more benefit to his development this year but at West Brom he has also been limited to appearances off the bench.
His natural position is cutting in from the left wing and he is perhaps a victim of the current formation as he’s not seen as defensive enough to play on the left of a four and isn’t a natural striker. However, it’s there that he has been getting most of his minutes as a replacement for Wallace late on in the game.
Sarmiento will be looking to make an impact and add to his only goal of the season so far against Town on Saturday.
Vaclav Hladky once again made a couple of crucial stops at the death against Swansea and is likely to keep his place in goal. With Brandon Williams now hopefully recovered from his illness, it also seems likely he’ll come back in at right-back.
Could this be the first outing of a Luke Woolfenden-Axel Tuanzebe pairing at the back? Depending on how fatigued Cameron Burgess is following his international duty, that could be the case but if the Australian is fit I can see him partnering Woolfenden with Leif Davis at left-back.
Jack Taylor excelled against Swansea and the performance should earn him a second consecutive start alongside Sam Morsy for me. Massimo Luongo could then come back in against a combative Millwall side.
The only question mark around the front four is Wes Burns v Omari Hutchinson with the young Chelsea loanee really stepping up in the Welshman's absence. I think it could be one of each starting for the next two games and I feel Burns suits the Millwall game better, so for me Hutchinson starts this one alongside Conor Chaplin and Nathan Broadhead with George Hirst as the number nine.
For West Brom, a bunch of new options will be available given the return to fitness of a number of players.
Palmer will start in goal. Could another centre-half come in to revert to a back three and match Town’s shape? I don’t think so. I think Corberan will have seen how effectively teams (particularly Birmingham) have pressed Town in that 4-4-2 formation off the ball and stick with that.
To freshen things up and provide a strong physical presence against Hirst then Ajayi could be given a start in place of Bartley alongside Furlong, Kipre and Townsend.
Yokuslu will start in midfield and it’s a toss-up between Mowatt and Chalobah alongside him. Given West Brom are playing at home, I've gone for the more expressive Mowatt.
Phillips and Diangana are likely to continue as the inverted wingers on either side with Wallace and Thomas-Asante up front. West Brom will have strengthened over the international break with players returning to fitness and Sarmiento and Maja are sure to provide a threat off the bench.
West Brom are safely in the middle of the table for most metrics but are above average at both ends of the pitch. They have kept seven clean sheets which is the most in the league (Town, Cardiff, Watford and Leeds all have six) and are also clinical at the other end.
Like a lot of the teams Town have faced away from home, they’re likely to face a semi-deep block but will then get pressed as the Baggies look to counter-punch with their talent up front
It’s also worth noting that their three penalties conceded so far is the second highest in the league (Sheffield Wednesday and Norwich have four), which could either be bad luck or it could mean their defenders like to dive into tackles a bit too much.
With the front four they have pace on the break and they also threaten from set pieces with four goals from defenders so far.
Both their wingers will play narrow and they’ll find a lot of space in that area with both Davis and Clarke/Williams naturally playing high and wide, but it does mean that Town’s front four should have more space to operate in and isolate West Brom’s backline in one-on-one situations.
If this game had come before the international break with the injuries and tiredness that seemed to have crept into the squad, I'd have been going for a West Brom win.
I think it’ll be tight and Town won’t have this game all their own way but if they can keep focus and keep West Brom out early I think they can achieve another 1-0 win on the road.
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