The Bet365 Stadium plays host to a pre-Christmas basement battle on Saturday as 17th-placed Stoke City welcome 19th-placed West Bromwich Albion in what is a crucial game for both clubs.
While Albion’s 17-game winless streak has been much talked about, the Potters are themselves on a run of one win in their last eight matches losing five of their last six most latterly slumping to a 3-0 home defeat to resurgent West Ham United last weekend. It’s probably as good a time as any to play Mark Hughes’s team, but with most sides around them experiencing an upturn in form, both managers know that this is a massive game.
Albion’s performance against Manchester United last weekend was a bit of a mixed bag. I thought that, for 70 minutes, Albion were poor. United didn’t really play well and didn’t have to do too much to get a two-goal lead, even if the second had a huge slice of fortune about it. In possession, however, there was a distinct lack of spark, very little creativity and limited movement as they failed to threaten the Manchester United defence. They tried to probe down the flanks with little success while there was a massive gap behind Rondón that no one seemed to want to occupy.
The introduction of Gareth Barry did have a positive impact while Chris Brunt’s delivery proved pivotal in the encouraging, if ultimately fruitless, late rally. Having been their most potent weapon under Pulis, set pieces have produced little for the Baggies this season with the absences of both Brunt and Phillips being a key reason. As I pointed out earlier in the season, Pulis’s switch to a midfield three limited Brunt’s involvement when he was fit, but it was injury that had kept him out more recently. Krychowiak produced some awful corners in the first half on Sunday, and the difference when Brunt took them after he came on was stark. United looked panicked on each one and, after Barry had poked the ball in from one corner, there were a few other opportunities created by the Ulsterman, most notably the header from Rodriguez that was a foot or so wide.
The Baggies’ lack of attacking threat can be at least partly put down to a series of injuries that have affected their more creative players with Brunt, Chadli, Morrison and Phillips all having been unavailable for much of Pardew’s time at the club. With Brunt having made a difference last weekend, Pardew may be lucky enough to welcome both Chadli and Phillips back for the trip to the Potteries, while James Morrison is also close to a return. Furthermore, Craig Dawson, probably the most consistent defender of last season, is also on in contention for the weekend and it could be that Pardew will have a fully fit squad to choose from by Boxing Day.
One thing that could impact that is the fact that four Albion players are one caution away from a suspension. The amnesty kicks in on 31st December which means that Claudio Yacob, Jonny Evans, James McClean and Allan Nyom need to get through three more games without a yellow card to avoid a ban. They all managed to avoid a caution against United last weekend and it is encouraging that the referee on Saturday, Neil Swarbrick, only averages 2.3 yellow cards per game this season, the fourth lowest in the Premier League. However, the referees for the Everton and Arsenal games both average above three per game.
All Albion fans will know that the Potters were a bogey side for the Baggies for many years, but Tony Pulis’s arrival switched that around dramatically. The Welshman only ever lost one Albion-Stoke game, the Baggies 2-1 win at the Britannia in 2012, and his record against Stoke as Albion manager was won four, drawn two. Albion’s last defeat to this season’s most local Premier League rivals was a 2-0 defeat in Stoke in December 2014. Alan Pardew, meanwhile, won all five of his meetings with Stoke as Crystal Palace manager including three wins at the Britannia/Bet365 Stadium.
This is, perhaps, a good time to play Stoke as they are in the midst of a bad run and may well be looking for a new manager bounce themselves in the not-to-distant future. The Pulis factor may no longer be there, but the Potters are no longer a bogey club and I think that, with one or two players back from injury, Pardew will guide the Baggies to a narrow victory.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
27 Aug 2017 – Premier League
West Brom 1 (Rodriguez)
Stoke City 1 (Crouch)
Last meeting at Stoke City
24 Sep 2016 – Premier League
Stoke City 1 (Allen)
West Brom 1 (Rondón)
4 Feb 2017 – Premier League
West Brom 1 (Morrison)
Stoke City 0
Last win at Stoke City
29 Aug 2015 – Premier League
Stoke City 0
West Brom 1 (Rondón)
Albion’s Record against Stoke City
|Premier League Record|