Premier League 17/18: West Bromwich Albion vs Huddersfield Town – Lineups, Preview and Prediction
This is a must-win game for both clubs not least Alan Pardew, whose career appears to be hanging in the balance.
15:00 GMT, Saturday 24th February, The Hawthorns (Birmingham, England)
Alan Pardew goes into this match with everything to prove having so far failed to inspire his new charges or fulfil the promise of bringing more attacking football to the Hawthorns.
While there have been improvements, they have not been transformed into points leaving the Baggies now adrift at the foot of the table.
With seven points now the difference between them and 17th-placed Huddersfield a win is essential for the Baggies even though it will not be enough to lift them off the bottom.
The Terriers too will view this as a game they can’t afford to drop points from. With only one point keeping them afloat above the relegation line and a further point separating the five teams above this line, three points will be a massive boost to their survival bid.
A thumping win over Bournemouth last time out has helped restore confidence in the Terriers plight. However, a narrower win this weekend similar to the 1-0 victory in the reverse fixture could be even more important to Huddersfield’s cause.
Last Time Out
West Bromwich Albion 1-2 Southampton (FA Cup)
West Brom’s escape from the realities of the Premier League ended as they fell out of the cup to fellow Premier League strugglers.
Both sides fielded strong teams for the start of this game but the Baggies looked nervous during the opening half an hour.
Coming out of the break a goal down but with renewed determination, they were then left a mountain to climb when the Saints doubled their lead.
Perhaps the most encouraging thing for the players was the support offered to them by their fans following what had been a tricky week due to off-the-field headlines spoiling their preparation for the game.
But while Salomón Rondón pulled a goal back for the home side with a third of the game left to play, the Baggies finished the game strong but were unable to find the all-important equalising goal, extinguishing their slim hopes of silverware this season.
Huddersfield Town 0-2 Manchester United (FA Cup)
Huddersfield showed plenty of endeavour but could not unpick United’s defence and ultimately fell out of the competition with their honour intact.
A third-minute goal from Romelu Lukaku meant Huddersfield were left chasing the game from the start but the strong side fielded by David Wagner seemed more than up to the task.
But while the Terriers finished the match with most of the possession and 19 shots compared to United’s 5, they could not penetrate the well-drilled defence before them.
The midfield pairing of Danny Williams and Philip Billing ran most of the game, controlling play in the central area of the pitch.
With full-backs Terence Kongolo and Florent Hadergjonaj also providing notably outstanding displays, the only thing missing from Huddersfield’s performance was the goals their play deserved.
West Brom Lineup
Daniel Sturridge will be unavailable again after pulling a hamstring muscle at the beginning of the Baggies recent match against Chelsea.
Both Nacer Chadli (thigh) and James Morrison (Achilles) will also miss out while Jonny Evans is widely expected to regain the Captain’s armband after losing it for a match following his moonlighting activities in Barcelona.
Huddersfield Town Lineup
Aaron Mooy and Elias Kachunga both have knee injuries which will keep them out of the action this weekend which could lead to another start for Billing who has just returned from a long injury himself.
Elsewhere in the team, David Wagner is unlikely to make too many changes as he looks to keep the standards which his players have during their recent matches.
Key Battle: Salomón Rondón (West Brom) vs Alex Pritchard (Huddersfield)
With Daniel Sturridge out injured, Rondón will once again be the main focal point of the Baggies attack this weekend.
Pardew has shown repeated faith in the Venezuelan forward, starting him in every game except the New Year’s Eve fixture which came during a busy schedule.
Rondón is yet to repay his manager’s faith in full, returning only two goals from the 12 league games played under Pardew. However, a late contribution could more than cover his debt.
Attacking in the opposite direction is a new signing who was viewed by many as a £14 million gamble last month.
Pritchard had shone in the Championship with Norwich but his credentials were very much untested at this higher level.
Playing in his preferred Number 10 role, Pritchard is being slowly lowered into the first team by Wagner but scored his first goal against Bournemouth and looks set to start for the Terriers in this upcoming fixture.
While he plays simple and effective football, he could have a big future ahead of him and will look to continue building momentum this weekend by putting a rival side to the sword.
Both camps have tackled the media in opposing directions ahead of what will be a crucial match at the bottom of the table.
While David Wagner and several of his players have made efforts throughout this week to stress there is no real pressure on the team and that this match is not critical to their season. By downplaying the game’s importance externally, the Terriers have put out a calm appearance prior to the game.
Alan Pardew made it startlingly clear how big this game is for him and West Brom. Stopping just short of labelling it a “must-win” game, Pardew has acknowledged that drawn matches are no longer sufficient if the club is to regain its top-flight status.
With games running out and the gap to safety growing, Pardew is gambling that his experienced players can handle the pressure while it seems Huddersfield are happy to smile and talk about the pressures on teams other than themselves.
Start of the end
While many people were writing off Huddersfield’s chances of staying in the Premier League, their impressive win over Bournemouth and a narrow defeat to Manchester United have added new colour to the relegation picture.
They now head into a period of seven games of which six are against teams in the bottom half of the table. In finding form just at the right time, the Terriers now have their destiny firmly within their own control with several good opportunities to pick up enough points.
With 27 points going into this weekend, a win would be the perfect start to their final run of important matches.
Prediction: West Bromwich Albion 1-3 Huddersfield Town
This game is one of the first in what will be a series of crucial games at the foot of the table during the coming weeks.
For the Baggies, and Alan Pardew in particular, this could well be a game with a bigger bite than many teams or managers will face over the next two-and-a-half months.
This match should, therefore, throw up plenty of drama but it seems more likely to have a happier outcome for the visitors who can make another statement in the league this weekend.