A little over five weeks since the two sides met in the Liberty Stadium on Boxing Day, the fixture computer pitches West Bromwich Albion and Swansea City against one another once more, this time at the Hawthorns. It’s a massive game for both sides who sit in 14th and 15th places in the Premier League table, nervously eyeing the bottom three.
With just one win in the last six games in all competitions, Albion are in desperate need of a morale-boosting victory. They had the perfect opportunity against League One Peterborough on Saturday, but they came up short with Posh equalising twice in the last 11 minutes as the Baggies put in yet another lacklustre display. That means yet another midweek fixture for Albion next week, which will make it two games a week for five weeks in seven since Christmas.
Swansea, on the other hand, had a weekend off having been knocked out of the FA Cup by League Two Oxford United in the third round and are buoyed by consecutive victories over Watford and Everton that has seen them pull four points clear of the relegation zone. A win over the Baggies will see the two clubs swap places, while a win for Albion will open up a six point gap.
Tony Pulis was severely criticised for his starting line-up on Boxing Day as he went ultra-defensive against a struggling side, and ended up losing. This time around, he must play an attacking line-up – Albion need to win this game, and Pulis still needs to win the fans back. Furthermore, defeat for Albion would surely put the right in the midst of another relegation scrap.
He went with two up front against Peterborough, and was rewarded with two goals from Berahino, although having scored early, they failed to push on and finish the game off. Sébastien Pocognoli got a rare start, but was partially at fault for both Peterborough goals so he may have fluffed his chance to get re-established in the team, although if Chris Brunt is not fit, he may get another opportunity.
With McManaman and Morrison definitely out, and Brunt and Fletcher uncertain to be fit, Pulis is limited on midfield options, and may have to go with McClean and Sessègnon out wide once again. There is a good chance that new midfield signings Sandro and Alex Pritchard will be in the squad, if not the starting line-up.
Up front, I think Pulis needs to go with two again, not least because of the lack of fit midfielders. At the time of writing, with just a few hours of the window to go, Berahino is still an Albion player and likely to remain so. I always thought it unlikely that he would move to Newcastle, both because they are a direct rival to the Baggies, and the player himself has his heart set on a club somewhat higher in the table.
Assuming Berahino is still around, he should start, probably alongside Rondón. Lambert, as he has pretty much admitted, continues to fail to impress and, if fit, Anichebe would also be a good foil for Albion’s number 18.
There are concerns at the back, primarily because of the number of games they are playing. Chester is not proving to be a worthwhile alternative at right back and, with Gamboa largely ignored, Dawson is likely to make his 27th start of the season. At 25, he is the youngest of the regular defenders and is generally performing well, but fatigue may prove to be a factor later in the season if he doesn’t get a rest. McAuley and Evans also have had little rest and two clean sheets in the last eight games could be a sign of things starting to go awry.
As stated above, Morrison and McManaman are defintiely out, and Fletcher and Brunt are doubtful for the hosts. Berahino supposedly picked up a dead leg in training on Monday, but I would expect him to be fit enough to play.
New Swansea manager, Francesco Guidolin, could well have a fully fit squad to choose from including new striker, Alberto Paloschi, who was signed from Chievo last week.
This is a game Albion cannot afford to lose and, in my opinion, it is one they really have to win with tough trips to Newcastle and Everton up next in the Premier League. I really hope that Pulis sees it the same way and goes with an attacking line-up – if he does, I fancy Albion to get the three points they desperately need.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
26 Dec 2015 – Premier League
Swansea City 1 (Ki)
West Brom 0
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
11 Feb 2015 – Premier League
West Brom 2 (Ideye, Berahino)
Swansea City 0
Albion’s Record against Swansea City
|Premier League Record|