West Bromwich Albion (H) Match Preview

In the words of former Latics manager Paul Cook – “It’s an unforgiving league.” After losing 5-1 to local rivals Burnley on Saturday afternoon we’ve not been left with any time to lick our wounds, it’s straight back into Championship action as we welcome another former Latics boss Steve Bruce’s West Bromwich Albion side to the DW Stadium.

The defeat to Burnley will hurt but one thing that we can be certain of with this Wigan side is that they’ll not get too low after a defeat, just like they never get too high after a victory. Tuesday night’s game will be another tough one against a side with promotion ambitions but it offers us a great chance to react positively to the heavy defeat from the weekend.

West Brom arrive at the DW having had a slightly underwhelming start to the new season, but with the quality of player in their first team you’d imagine it’s only a matter of time before it clicks for them and they fly up the table. Hopefully its not tonight mind you, Latics will be hoping that the Baggies’ false start continues.

Latics Team News

After an injury riddled start to the season it looks as though we’re almost back to being blessed with a fully fit squad. With the transfer window closing in a couple of days there are a still a couple of gaps to fill in our squad but we’re definitely in a better place depth wise than we were a few weeks ago.

Unfortunately we didn’t make it through the Burnley game unscathed. Captain Tendayi Darikwa left the field in the second half with what looked like a dislocated shoulder and if that was indeed the case he’ll almost certainly miss the game with Albion. Leam did hint at a speedy recovery saying “Knowing Tendayi, he’ll do everything he can to make sure he’s fit and available as quickly as possible.” That being said, I doubt he’ll be back tomorrow.

That means Ryan Nyambe will probably make his first league start of the season for us, and he’ll be looking to cement himself as a regular starter from now on. He didn’t look comfortable at all playing as a Right Wing Back on Saturday so assuming (and I’m really hoping) that we revert to a back 4 tonight it’ll suit him massively.

3 into 2 doesn’t go so a Centre Back will have to be dropped if we go to a 4, and for me I’d probably leave Curtis Tilt out. Jason Kerr and Jack Watmough played really well together against Bristol City and Birmingham and although harsh on Tilt, who doesn’t deserve to be dropped on merit, I think it makes the most sense to play the other 2. The fact he’s left footed could mean he stays in the side though as Leam loves to have a balanced pairing.

Joe Bennett will probably return if we play a 4 at the back but it would be interesting to see a more positive move made by moving James McClean there. He’d be tested hugely defensively by Jed Wallace but what it would give us in attacking transition means it might make it a risk worth taking.

Graeme Shinnie performed well on Saturday but he’d be the midfielder to miss out when we change to a midfield 2. His energy and industry are both wonderful qualities to have in a squad player coming off the bench to defend leads/points and should we find ourselves hanging on against Albion I hope he comes on to help protect it.

Introducing players like Thelo Aasgaard or Nathan Broadhead into the starting 11 is something I think we need to do at some point in the near future. Callum Lang, as much as I love him and think he will come good in this division sooner rather than later, has had a tough start to the season and I wonder if having a few games making an impact off the bench might suit him as he settles into the Championship. Whether a game against a promotion candidate is the best time to be experimenting in I’m not sure but it’s definitely something to think about going forward.

An Opposition View

To give an insight into where our opponents are at leading into tonight’s fixture I’ve called in the help of someone far more knowledgeable on West Brom than myself!

1) Albion have picked up 7 points from their opening 6 games but have arguably played better than that tally suggests. What’ve you made of your start to the season?

“I think we’ve started well, better than the table suggests. We keep conceding shots from distance, which is a bit of a concern and one of the main reasons we haven’t picked up more points.” [@AnalyticsWba]

2) No team in the league has a higher xG (according to Wyscout) than West Brom this season. Can you describe your sides style of play and how you tend to create this many chances?

“Jed Wallace has been brilliant and key to creating chances. Him and Furlong work well together down the right to create space for a cross and Wallace crosses with pinpoint accuracy, he almost always picks a man to cross to rather than just putting it in an area.

Diangana has been lively down the left as well, carrying the ball inside and looking for through balls and cut backs. Grant makes short diagonal runs across and behind centre backs to get on the end of through balls. Swift likes to work space to shoot from range and is also very good at arriving late into the box for cut-backs/ crosses.” [@AnalyticsWba]

3) It’s fair to say the Albion squad is one of the best in the league, but who do you think will be the standout player(s) on Tuesday evening?

“I’d say the starting XI is one of the best, but we’ve got very little depth in the squad. The standout players will probably be Wallace with his ability to pick players out in the box.

Diangana has started the season excellently, brilliant at dribbling and getting out of tight spaces. He also does the defensive work, something you might not expect from a player with his flair and ability.

Yokuslu is a nice player to watch, very strong and excellent at winning the ball back. Has some lovely little touches/ dribbles to escape pressure. But can be loose with his passing when playing forwards.” [@AnalyticsWba]

Tactical Talk

I’ve not said this very often and I’m hoping I won’t say it too many more times but in my opinion Leam Richardson made a mistake by changing to a 5 at the back system. I’ll admit before the game I did think it could be the right move, but it became apparent very quickly that it wasn’t going to work against Vincent Kompany’s side.

Going man for man with the Clarets in midfield was a brave decision that worked to some extent but also had it’s negatives. Our wing backs were our only wide players and at times they found themselves unsure whether to pick up Burnley’s wingers or full backs. This indecision often led to a CM being dragged out wide to deal with the overload, in turn leaving us 2 vs 4 in midfield as Burnley’s opposite full back tended to sit in an inverted position off the ball.

It was a harsh reminder of what a technical and tactical step up the Championship is and I’m sure it’s something we’ll learn from. I think in the short term it’ll make Leam favour a 4 at the back system and as I mentioned earlier with Nyambe coming into the squad I think that’ll suit what we have squad wise at the moment.

Against a team with wide players as good as West Brom have we’ll need that extra bit of support out there. Our two wingers, probably Lang and McClean, will have to track back and keep tabs on the overlapping full backs who often find themselves delivering crosses or arriving late in the box to get on the end of them.

Because we defend so narrow it will make these overlapping runs more dangerous. Think of the goal we conceded to Norwich, our back 4 were extremely compact to prevent them playing through us but space opened up out wide and they played around us instead. Unfortunately McClean lost his man and the Norwich RB was left in acres of space to shoot and score.

As you can see conceding chances to overlapping full backs is something we have been susceptible to this season, but it can be dealt with with disciplined man marking and a slightly less narrow back 4. Remaining compact has its benefits but against a side with such quality wide players I’d be worried about letting them have time and space to deliver crosses or shots from.

I mentioned earlier about how being brave and moving McClean to LB and bringing Aasgaard/Broadhead into the side could give us a better chance of winning. If we were to leave our LW high up the pitch when out of possession it could force Albion into leaving an extra man back. Ideally it would pin their RB back and nullify the threat of an overlap that I’ve just mentioned, but if not it leaves us with more space on the counter attack.

It would be a high risk high reward tactical change and I doubt we’d do it because leaving McClean 2v1 against Wallace and Furlong is a hell of an ask for someone that isn’t a natural full back. That being said doing something outside the box that forces them into changing their plans could be an interesting thing to do, and when you’re the side that is weaker on paper you have to make these brave calls at times in order to bring the odds back in your favour.

Playing 4 at the back gives us the best chance in my opinion and if we remain disciplined but brave we’ll get some joy I’m sure. Albion have the players to blow us out of the water in a similar way to how Burnley did, but if we hold them off for a while and they’re as wasteful in front of goal as they have been in recent weeks I fancy our chances to nick something.

Final Thoughts

I fully expect Latics to be slightly bruised from Saturday’s heavy defeat to Burnley but I’m sure they won’t carry that feeling into the game today. We need to bounce back and if we play as well as we did in our opening 4 games of the season I have no doubts that we’ll get chances against an Albion side that is still finding their feet.

The visitors have been wasteful at times this season but with the amount of chances they create I’m sure they’ll test us a lot at times. We saw in their 5-2 victory over Hull that when it clicks they can blow teams away and and everyone at Latics will be hoping they’re more profligate tonight than they were that day.

I can’t work out if I’m confident or not about this game to be honest! I feel like it all rests on the Albion front line, if they take their chances we don’t stand a chance but if they remain wasteful we’ll sneak something (as obvious as that sounds!).

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