West Bromwich Albion will be full of confidence going into tonight’s tie at the bet365 Stadium against fellow promotion-chasers Stoke City, looking to secure a third consecutive league victory.
The Baggies currently sit at the top of the Championship table following their thumping 4-0 win on Tuesday night against Cardiff City, vastly improving their goal difference and extending their unbeaten run in the second tier.
Remarkably, Valerien Ismael’s men have gone unbeaten in all ten of their league games so far this term, although their failure to turn draws into wins in a frustrating mini-run just after the international break has been a barrier to their progress, not allowing them to pull away from their promotion rivals who will be looking to get past the West Midlands side at some point during the season.
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So far, so good though – but they face a potential banana skin-type game against a side who have started brightly during this campaign.
A win would be another small step to promotion, a draw would be acceptable, but a loss would be gutting just before the next international break and something they won’t want to be reflecting on over the interval.
Some people would argue that continuity is needed after such an emphatic victory at the Cardiff City Stadium in midweek – but others would say a couple of changes wouldn’t hurt to give one or two regular starters a rest to avoid injuries.
Ahead of tonight’s 7:45pm clash, we have predicted the side and system 45-year-old Ismael will go with as they look to extend their unbeaten league run to 11 games.
In goal, it’s a no-brainer. Sam Johnstone has deservedly earned another call-up to the England squad for their upcoming World Cup qualifiers and seemingly established himself as the Three Lions’ number two during the summer. The Baggies will be hoping they can tie him down to a new deal before the end of 2021.
At centre-back, Kean Bryan comes in as an orthodox, left-footed centre-back and will need to prove his worth to Valerien Ismael with Matt Clarke on his way back and available for selection tonight. Kyle Bartley and Semi Ajayi remain at the heart of defence alongside him.
With Bryan’s inclusion, Townsend goes back out on the left-hand side in place of Adam Reach.
Reach was excellent against Cardiff in midweek, but Clarke’s availability and likely starts after the international break means the 28-year-old should probably get used to life as a wing-back again. And you could argue the presence of Bryan as a natural centre-back will help to provide solidity against a dangerous Stoke side.
On the right, it has to be Darnell Furlong in there again – but could the Baggies benefit with more depth at right wing-back? Either way, Furlong will continue to be a threat with his long throw-ins – potentially giving Bryan an opportunity to get his first goal for the West Midlands side.
Moving on to the midfield, Alex Mowatt remains at the heart of everything West Brom do and continues to be instrumental in Valerien Ismael’s system after learning his style of play at Barnsley last term.
Previously being the Tykes’ captain, his leadership skills will be vital alongside current Baggies skipper Jake Livermore, although one of the duo will probably come off for Jayson Molumby at some point to give the Brighton loanee a chance to impress.
So the midfield remains unchanged, and after such a convincing win against Cardiff, the front three also remains the same. This would be a blow for Grady Diangana and Matt Phillips, but also an opportunity for the duo to come on and run against a tiring Stoke City defence late on in tonight’s game.
It would give the former the perfect opportunity to get in and amongst the goals, something you feel he needs to boost his confidence further.
You could argue Hugill’s lack of goals is a concern after scoring just four times in 31 league appearances for Norwich City last term – but you have to look at him as a whole and determine his value to the team.
Some would take him out, but we’re leaving him in for this one with the amount of second-tier experience he has under his belt.
Predicted Substitutes: Button, Reach, Clarke, Molumby, Snodgrass, Diangana, Phillips