13:00 KO (BST); Sunday 27th August; The Hawthorns (Birmingham, England);
Tony Pulis has the unique ability to manage a team well, yet somehow always finds his side going unnoticed and un-fancied by the general public. A typically strong start to the season by West Brom has them with a 100% win record in the league and strong candidates to again the be the Premiership’s dark horses who over-achieve in terms of their standing in the table. While this won’t faze Pulis, the perennial under-dogs go into their latest home game with the annual task of reaching 40 points looking like a mere formality.
In a similar vein to West Brom, Stoke have also been a team to carefully avoid praise and adulation despite regularly finishing in the top-half of the table. Mark Hughes has slowly evolved the style of football played in Stoke since he took the reigns at the Britannia Stadium from Pulis just over four years ago.
While his collection of star names have not always gelled as he would have hoped, he has added yet more big names to his squad this summer. Whether this is enough for Stoke to become more widely appreciated will be a moot point compared to the relative importance of winning their upcoming Midland derby.
LAST TIME OUT
Accrington Stanley 1 – 3 WEST BROM (EFL Cup – Second round)
Accrington Stanley may have done wonders for the milk industry in the 80’s, but they didn’t fare so well in this season’s updated version of the milk cup. West Brom went into the game with a strong team that only featured four changes from their recent Premier League starting eleven, a team who’s strength was underlined by the fact that of the starting lineup, Craig Dawson was the only player without a full international cap.
While the Baggies missed a host of chances which fell their way, the amount of opportunities they created was impressive. Matt Phillips was the player who stood out the most amongst these experienced players. As industrious as ever, Phillips was at his creative best against the team from Lancashire, heavily involved in both of the goals which surrounded his own strike.
STOKE CITY 4 – 0 Rochdale (EFL Cup – Second round)
The Potters cruised into the third round after a convincing win against Rochdale. It was another much-changed lineup in this competition that Mark Hughes fielded. Using the game as an opportunity to give several peripheral players a chance to nudge their way into his consideration, Bruno Martins Indi was the only regular first-team player who featured for the full 90 minutes.
Joe Allen and Darren Fletcher swapped the central midfield role at half-time, however, as good as Fletcher was in the second half, Allen outshone everyone on the pitch with a blistering 45-minute cameo. He led the Potters like a true captain figure should, high energy, commitment and determination for which he was deservedly rewarded with a brace of goals for his efforts.
Allen began last season by making a huge impact for Stoke and despite now playing a deeper role compared to a year ago, the Welshman could well have just as much influence over his team on this showing.
West Brom Lineup
While Oliver Burke is poised to become the Baggies fourth summer signing, the Scottish winger is not expected to feature in this game from the first whistle. Jonny Evans (hamstring) Gareth McAuley (thigh) and Hal Robson-Kanu (suspended) will not feature either, while Claudio Yacob (hamstring) is likely to miss out to Gareth Barry in midfield.
Stoke City Lineup
Ibrahim Afellay (knee) continues to sit on the sidelines while Xherdan Shaqiri (hamstring) is also a minor doubt but is expected to be fit to start for Hughes’ side. Saido Berahino will also be keen to impress against his old club, however, Max Choupo-Moting could well start in the striker’s place.
Key Battle: Jay vs Jesé
It will be Rodriguez vs Rodríguez in the attacking stakes at the Hawthorns. West Brom’s Jay Rodriguez scored his first competitive goal for his new club in midweek and will now look to add his first Premiership goal for the Baggies to this week’s achievements.
Having looked lively in every game he’s played for the Midland side since his arrival from the South Coast, Rodriguez looks to be stepping up to the challenge of playing for a new club by producing a level of form which matches the potential he has promised for years.
In the opposite corner, Jesé Rodríguez will be looking to continue his integration into the Premiership where he left off last weekend against Arsenal. His instant impact was in stark contrast to his previous 25 appearances for both Paris St-Germain and Las Palmas cumulatively, where he only managed to produce 4 goals. A fresh start and a fresh challenge could be exactly the answer his career needs and he’s already made the start to set him on the right road to recovery.
West Brom are more the work-horses of the Premier League, a side who battle hard to earn an honest day’s living which keeps them within the safe confines of the Premiership’s safety zone. Tony Pulis rarely alters his tactics, formation or starting lineups and it’s a consistency in practice which delivers a regularity in performances and to an extent, expectations.
With almost half (15 of 31) of West Brom’s wins under Tony Pulis coming with a 1-0 scoreline, this consistency also stretches to the results which his side pick up along the way. Playing a team who were far from consistent in the league last year, West Brom also face a local rival who they’ve beaten four times and drawn against in their last five meetings. If consistency can be used to predict this match, the Baggies should win 1-0 as they did in three of these four wins.
Strengthening the defence
One of the biggest problems which faced Mark Hughes’ team last season was their inability to keep a clean sheet. Usually dependable in this area, Ryan Shawcross appeared to be the biggest culprit early in their campaign as he was repeatedly penalised for fouls largely caused by him being caught out of position for the Potters.
The FA’s tightening of rules which clamped down on a more physical approach to defending also seemed to go against the Stoke captain who is famed for his no-nonsense approach to taking the ball off the opposition.
After switching to a back-three, Hughes has seemingly helped his captain adjust, as has the presence of Bruno Martins-Indi who has been a revelation for the Stoke defence. Adding Chelsea’s Kurt Zouma into the mix this season, Stoke now have an incredibly imposing collection of defenders that will rarely be over-powered by any opponent they are faced against.
With a trip to West Brom now on the horizon, West Brom’s set-plays are going to be an interesting spectator sport in their own right.
PREDICTION: West Brom 1 – 2 Stoke City
In a game that pits two fiery Welsh managers against each other in a local derby, this will be a highly entertaining clash for many reasons, however, grace and beauty are two words which will quite possibly be missing from the ensuing match reports.
West Brom will be as solid as ever and present a real challenge for Stoke’s attackers to break down, however, with extra craft and guile at the front and plenty of physical presence at the back, Stoke could have enough to come away from their rivals house with all three points
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