Being the committed football manager that he is, you can imagine that as he tucks into his turkey and pigs in blankets on Christmas Day, Tony Pulis’s mind is more likely to be mulling over his Boxing Day team selection than the festivities going on around him.
And with two of his default first eleven missing for the entire “festive programme” following their red cards against Bournemouth, it is a team selection that Pulis does need to think about. Will the prospect of facing two of the bottom four in the next two matches lead the Welshman to loosen the shackles a little and put out a genuinely attacking line-up or will he adopt his useful safety-first approach?
There has been much speculation that unsettled striker, Saido Berahino, is likely to get a chance with the absence of Solomón Rondón. That would be a positive step, in my opinion, even if the Burundi-born youngster simply uses it as an opportunity to showcase his talent and remind potential suitors of how good he can be. I’d be happy for him to do that – his form in the last two months has been poor and you have to wonder whether losing him in the summer without a replacement would have had much impact. If the prospect of a move gets him showing the sort of effort and ability he showed last season, it will be a welcome boost for the Baggies even if it is only short term.
Berahino should, if he is interested, provide a better option up front than Rickie Lambert, assuming Pulis sticks with the 4-5-1 formation, but the decision that will be most indicative of the manager’s mindset will be who replaces James McClean.
I’ll get the comedy option out of the way first – it’s not that it would be a comical decision, but that it’s almost laughable to suggest that Pulis would suddenly decide to play Pocognoli at left back and perhaps moving Brunt forward, but I feel that I have to keep reminding people that the option is there.
The selection that would surely produce the most groans around the away end at the Liberty Stadium is Craig Gardner, but it is also, perhaps, the most likely. To be fair to Gardner, he has played well in recent games, but he remains limited in his attacking prowess and he is simply unsuitable to be played as a wide midfielder, in my opinion. Gardner’s inclusion would be interpreted as a defensive selection, and suggest that Pulis would be happy with a point at Swansea. In the form that they are in, I would not.
The choice that would make me smile would be Callum McManaman. The former Wigan winger has found his chances limited of late despite him looking dangerous almost every time he takes the field. It has been difficult to argue against McClean’s place in the side recently but his absence is a great chance to give Macca an opportunity to impress and add some much-needed pace to the team.
There is the chance, however, that Pulis may opt to change the formation and go two up front. It seems unlikely that Pulis would sacrifice a defensive midfielder from the start, so if we assume that Fletcher will play alongside Yacob or the latest player to play out of position, Jonny Evans, that would mean two from Sessègnon, Morrison, Gardner and McManaman as the wide players behind, presumably, Berahino and Lambert.
One player who seems certain not to feature again for Albion is Serge Gnabry. The Arsenal loanee has played just 12 minutes for the first team this season and it seems that both clubs are happy to take the option to terminate the deal next month. Reports suggest that he has done little to impress Pulis in the under-21 side and the only moment most of us can remember is the roulette he performed with more-or-less his first touch against Chelsea back in August.
The Swans are on a dreadful run with their only win in the last 13 games being away at Aston Villa in October. They have picked up just two points in the seven games since then, the latest being a 0-0 draw at home to West Ham last time out.
The run saw manager Gary Monk lose his job earlier this month and, without a replacement appointed, club stalwart Alan Curtis remains in charge on a caretaker basis.
South Wales is a poor hunting ground for the Baggies, and they have only won on three occasions at Swansea, although two of those have been in the five games that they have played at the Liberty Stadium including the vital 2-1 win two seasons ago.
Apart from the banned McClean and Rondón and long term absentee, Ben Foster, Albion have no further injury worries assuming those suffering from illness last weekend are fully recovered. Claudio Yacob is back in contention having been allowed to travel back to Argentina following a family bereavement.
Wayne Routledge and Angel Rangel are both available for the hosts having suffered minor injuries recently. Macedo Lopes and Franck Tabanou remained sidelined.
I have no confidence that Tony Pulis will send out the Albion team to win this game, but with Swansea in such dreadful form, that is exactly what he should do. The Baggies could win this game either way but I’d love to see them really take the game to Swansea and win handsomely but I’m going for a narrow win for Albion after another largely defensive display.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
11 Feb 2015 – Premier League
West Brom 2 (Ideye, Berahino)
Swansea City 0
Last meeting at Swansea City
30 Aug 2014 – Premier League
Swansea City 3
West Brom 0
Last win at Swansea City
15 Mar 2014 – Premier League
Swansea City 1
West Brom 2 (Sessègnon, Mulumbu)
Albion’s Record against Swansea City
|Premier League Record|