West Bromwich Albion signalled another big statement of intent under Valerien Ismael last night, with the Baggies defeating Sheffield United 4-0 at the Hawthorns.
With both sides coming down from the Premier League last season, many expected Albion and United to be fighting at the business end of the Championship this term, with managerial changes taking place in either dugout.
But based off their early season form, it’s the Baggies who look on course to mount a serious push for promotion this campaign, as they look to make an immediate return to the top-flight at the first time of asking.
Albion, who drew with AFC Bournemouth on opening day before beating Luton Town 3-2 at the weekend, picked up their most comfortable three points of the season so far on Wednesday night.
An own-goal from Jack Robinson, followed by strikes from Dara O’Shea, Alex Mowatt and Callum Robinson saw the Baggies record back-to-back home wins in a matter of days for Ismael’s men.
Ismael’s trusted midfield maestro, Mowatt, has seemingly picked up from where he left off, after playing an influential role in helping Barnsley reach the play-off semi-finals last term.
His performances have been eye-catching since moving to the Hawthorns, and last night, he opened his account for the club with a well-taken finish – but there was far more to his performance than just the goal…
As our graphic below shows, Mowatt played for the full 95 minutes as Albion showed their class and outplayed the faltering Blades.
His key contribution came on 53 minutes, when he drove forward from midfield and latched onto Karlan Grant’s through-ball, before coolly drawing the goalkeeper and slotting low and beyond Michael Verrips to send Albion into a 3-0 lead.
Ismael deployed a 5-3-2 formation, utilising Mowatt and Grady Diangana as more advanced midfielders either side of Jake Livermore. The onus was on the 26-year-old to drive forward and operate in the half spaces as well as creating chances for the two centre-forwards Grant and Robinson.
The run for the goal was one of two progressive runs he embarked on, with the midfielder breaking up play well and making a total of six interceptions.
Mowatt’s quality on the ball was also on display despite Albion only having 34% of the ball on the night. He created two shot assists, accruing a pass accuracy of 65% from a total of 23 passes. A second half corner led to Albion’s second goal, too, with his fizzing delivery causing confusion and allowing O’Shea to capitalise on Verrips’ fumble to nod home.
One thing you cannot fault Mowatt for is his ambition on the ball. He very rarely plays the safe option and always looks to advance forward to supply Grant and Robinson with service. Last night, 12 of his 23 passes were played forward, with half of those finding a teammate successfully.
On an evening where the Baggies didn’t get on the ball as much as they would have liked, Ismael’s men still managed to outclass United and put four goals in their net.
If they can take control of more games going forward, as well as possess that ruthless edge in front of goal, then Albion will continue to cement their position towards the summit of the Championship.
If he carries on this way, Mowatt will continue to pull the strings in that ascent.