1.Formation and Personnel
System wise, our hosts have shaped up in a 4-4-2 this season with 2 out and out strikers, a slight tweak from last season when Odemwingie was usually the leading point of a 4-2-3-1. West Brom line up with two natural wingers Chris Brunt and Jerome Thomas, but both have license to cut inside with strikers Odemwingie and Long looking to fill the space left by the wide men by pulling wide to create width in the final third. Mulumbu, who scored against us home and away last season, makes the most passes per game (46) with the highest pass completion (86%) but he is an injury doubt for this one. The creation in midfield comes from Morrison and Brunt who create 1.7 and 1.9 chances per game respectively.
For ourselves, we are pretty much down to the bare bones again with first choice midfielders Fellaini, Rodwell and Coleman all out and new signing Landon Donovan not able to play until the Bolton game. Therefore I’d expect few changes from the Sunderland match with veteran campaigner Phil Neville putting his ageing legs to the test in the engine room alongside Jonny Heitinga with Drenthe and Osman advanced, cutting in from both flanks.
2.WBA are no Shapeshifters
Hodgson plays 2 banks of 4 and will look to keep a solid shape at all times. The average position image (right) from a recent home game against Spurs shows the basic strategy of having two banks of four who will move forward and back together with minimal room in between. This makes them tough to break down and is reliant on the team attacking them showing good movement to pull them out of position, which is discussed further in point 4.
In Odemwingie and Long the Baggies have something in abundance we don’t have – strikers with pace, good movement and who can score goals. We like to play a high line (although less so away from home) but against strikers like this with genuine acceleration we are going to need to tweak this slightly or take a huge risk on our pressing in midfield being enough to nullify the Baggies playing balls over our high line.
As per point 2, the Baggies have a very will drilled outfit capable of retaining their shape against some of the best attacks in the league as the Man City game showed. The way to combat this is to drag central defenders into areas they don’t want to go and then expose the space in behind. This is the best way to puncture the Baggies rearguard as shown by the fact that they have conceded 4 pens in their last 5 games at home when such space has been exposed. Centre back McAuley is particularly astute in the air winning 77% of his aerial duels this season but is not so quick footed when faced with pace. We have proved adept at winning pens this season – we have scored the most (4) in the league – with Drenthe particularly good at buying cheap fouls.
5.Beware the early goal
This match pits the team who score the league’s highest proportion of their goals in the first half (63%) with the bulk of these coming in the first ten mins (32%) against ourselves who score the highest proportion (72%) of our goals in the second half with the bulk of these (45%) coming in the last ten minutes of games. Not surprisingly because of this, the Baggies have dropped 11 points from winning situations with only Blackburn having lost more. From a betting point of view a H/T WBA F/T draw looks a decent bet…probably 1-1…probably Scharner first scorer!
Happy New Year from The Executioner’s Bong and thanks for reading the blog during 2011!