Unbeaten in the league after four games, West Bromwich Albion are already beginning to show the division why they are widely expected to earn automatic promotion this season.
With two wins and two draws, Slaven Bilic’s side are yet to hit anywhere near their best, which should worry any team that comes to face them in the near future.
Tomorrow, it’s Derby County’s turn, but just how worried should the Rams be and what three ways can the Baggies hurt them on Saturday?
Runs in behind
You only have to look at Derby’s last game to realise that they are struggling to deal with long balls over the top of their defence. Both Stoke and Bristol City – in Derby’s last two games – gained success in playing looping through balls to quick strikers such as Scott Hogan, Benik Afobe and Andreas Wiemann.
Derby’s defence, at the moment, is extremely new. Matt Clarke and Max Lowe at full-back and left-back respectively are still looking to settle into the team and it has shown. If Charlie Austin and Matt Phillips can make these same runs off the shoulders of the defenders and be found well by brilliant passing range of Jake Livermore, Derby will struggle to cope.
Take advantage of obvious downfall
Now, it would seem, is the perfect time to play Derby. They are without Duane Holmes and Jayden Bogle through injury and the latter has had a quite damming effect on the side.
In Bogle’s absence, Lowe has had to play right-back. The product of the Derby academy is left-footed and has never played on the right side up until now. On the flip side, Kieran Gibbs and Grady Diangana have had a good amount of success already this season, particularly on their travels to Luton Town where Diangana netted two goals in a 2-1 win.
Their partnership will cause the youngster, playing out of position, problems throughout the game and may be the best route of attack for Bilic’s side.
Balls into the box
In Austin and Kenneth Zohore, West Brom have two powerful strikers who can challenge in the air. Derby have already conceded two goals from set plays and haven’t looked comfortable defending crosses since their opening game against Huddersfield Town.
Combining that with the plethora of talent they have on the wing, it would, therefore, be fair to assume that most of the Baggies’ joy will come from the wings at Pride Park. Particularly with the crossing ability of Phillips and threat of Kyle Bartley from set pieces, West Brom definitely have the players to hurt Derby from crosses into the box.