05 October 2013

West Brom preview: beware the Baggies!

Setting aside last week's league cup victory as a match between two squads that are unlikely to reappear on Sunday, we might look at this match as a winnable one. On paper, we're likely to field the same full-strength squad that has won its last ten
matches overall, including eight in a row on the road, but knowing the past is not the same as repeating it. West Brom comes into the match fresh off a 2-1 win at Old Trafford, a feat we haven't been able to accomplish in some time. Before the snark regarding Man U's current position on the table begins, I'm sure they looked at that match the same way many of us are looking at tomorrow's: eminently winnable. Sure, our run of form clobbers Man U's, but each match does stand on its own. In fact, the manner of our league cup win over West Brom has probably provided plenty of motivation for them. After all, there was a very tense time when it looked like the penalties were going to break in their favor, and they could have quite easily won.

West Brom might be one of the few squads to match our squad's injury woes, but this may work in their favor as least as far as it concerns one Saido Berahino, who replaced the injured Scott Sinclair and scored the game-winner against Man U, not to mention the equalizer against us. Berahino's story is an amazing one, as the Burundian escaped the ravages of the Hutu-Tutsi civil war to come to England and is starting to make good. You can read more of his saga in this Telegraph article. Long story short, football offered the man more than just competition on the pitch amidst the poverty and violence in Burundi. To see that he's made good on his promise and features for West Brom, and possibly for England's Three Lions, is an inspirational story.

I hope, therefore, that it's not churlish of me to wish him well without wishing him too well on Sunday. West Brom is more than one man, of course, and we'd do well to keep an eye on Berahino as well as on several shrewd new signings—Stéphane Sessegnon and Victor Anichebe are the kind of direct, aggressive attackers who might cause us trouble, especially for Jenkinson on the right, who is still finding his way and may struggle against their pace and physicality. Morgan Amalfitano will be another one to track; he provided a goal and the assist on Berahino's goal against Man U, and he was probably West Brom's most energetic player against us last week. Those three signings may not send the same signal of intent as signing Özil, for example, but they brighten up the Baggies' attack quite well, and they're quite stingy on defense as well, having conceded only two goals in their last three Prem matches. Olsson and McAuley take up a lot of space, and Mulumbu and Yacob are very disruptive with their tackling ability.

At some point, we're going to run up against a squad hungrier than we are. Our run of form, for as exciting as it is, can feed a certain complacency, especially among our younger players. How long will it be, for example, before 22-year old Aaron Ramsey feels he has answered his critics? 21-year old Jack Wilshere saw fit to smoke a cigarette in public (or at least hold one on a dare, if his publicist has any say in it). I'm not suggesting that anyone's mailing it in, but a streak like the one we're on can lead some to lose just a bit of their edge, even subtly or subconsciously. It's not the run of form that takes the pitch, after all, and we're only as good as the effort we put forth after the whistle blows.

As I write, Liverpool has taken a 3-0 lead over Crystal Palace and looks to climb to 16 points, and Spurs will host West Ham, looking to do the same. If we'd like to stay ahead of them, we'll of course need to take all three points tomorrow. I'm looking to Giroud to open the scoring and hope to see a 2-0 win.

Make your own predictions for final score and MotM in the comments section below. I hope you'll cast a ballot for me in the Football Blogging Awards' "best new blog" category. You can click here to here to vote via twitter or here to receive an email ballot. Thanks, as always, for your visit!