After successive matches against three of this season’s top five, Albion take a trip to the home of the reigning champions on Sunday on a run of five games without a win, and having managed just two wins in their last nineteen Premier League games.
Those stats do not make happy reading and the odds of improving them this weekend are not good. Leicester City got back to winning ways in the Premier League in their last home game, after an indifferent start to their title defence, and they followed that up with an impressive point at White Hart Lane. Meanwhile, they are yet to concede a goal in the Champions League having won their first three matches and earned a goalless draw in Copenhagen last time out. They may not be the force they were last season, but they will still be a tough test for the Baggies.
However, Albion have never lost at the Walkers/King Power Stadium, with their last defeat in Leicester some 22 years ago in January 1994 when Iwan Roberts scored twice for the hosts in a 4-2 win. Albion won on their last visit to Filbert Street in 1996, and have visited the new stadium six times winning four and drawing two.
In the first half against Manchester City last weekend, Albion were poor and gifted the visitors their first two goals. They made it far too easy for City to produce the passing move that led up to Agüero’s first and, while his second was a fabulous strike, three Albion players watched motionless as the Argentine nipped in to steal the ball before firing into the top corner. I was surprised that the Baggies had had as much as 19% possession in the first half, and the fans showed their sense of humour with the widely reported “We’ve got the ball” chant as half time neared.
I’m not sure why he waited until five minutes into the second half before making the changes, but Pulis finally saw sense in substituting captain, Darren Fletcher, with James Morrison and also took off Jonas Olsson and replaced him with Jonathan Leko. While Leko would not have been an obvious starter having made just four appearances from the bench this season, Pulis’s decision to put Evans in midfield was a mistake. Evans and McAuley have been a solid partnership this season and breaking that up against a forward line as strong as City’s seemed bizarre. I know Olsson had played with McAuley at Anfield while Evans was suspended, and played OK, it was always going to be a risk against City. Evans did deputise for Yacob on occasion last season, he rarely looked comfortable and it seems strange that Pulis didn’t consider Craig Gardner for the holding role. Backup for the Argentine has been lacking ever since Mulumbu left the club and, while efforts were made to sign a holding midfielder in the summer, it is something that needs addressing in January as we all know that Claudio will be missing for another two games come March!
Fletcher was woeful last weekend, continuing his poor form so far this season. He was one of our best performers in the last campaign, with the fact that he has started every single Premier League game for Albion since he joined testament to his consistency. This season, however, he seems to have lost something – he is always taking too many touches to get the ball under control and too long to make a decision. He used to know exactly what he was going to do before receiving the ball, so it seemed, but now he is dithering and getting caught in possession time and time again. It is time for that impressive record to come to an end – captain or not, he needs a spell on the sidelines.
Morrison, on the other hand, was a revelation. He and Brunt took hold of the centre of midfield and rolled the years back as they pinged the ball about with confidence. Albion’s two longest serving players sparked the Baggies into life and, with Leko causing all sorts of problems on the right wing, the hosts were the better side for half an hour in the second half. Had Rondón taken the excellent chance he had from McClean’s cross, it could’ve been a very different result. Leko was excellent and you have to ask why he hasn’t had more football this season after his impressive end to the last campaign. He still needs to know when to make the pass, but his ability to go past two defenders was remarkable, and he created one great chance which fell to McAuley who slammed it against the post before firing the rebound over the bar.
It was not just the change in personnel that made the difference in the second half, however, it was Albion’s entire approach to the game. When City were in possession at the back, rather than dropping to the halfway line as they had in the first half, they pressed up on the City’s defence and Otamendi, Stones and Bravo all took some huge risks to try to play their way out, and they were caught out on occasion. Unfortunately, Albion’s forward line was not good enough to capitalise and a few good opportunities when the ball was won high up the field were spurned. Bravo did have to resort to launching it on occasion and I was left wondering why Albion didn’t employ those tactics in the first half. The efficacy in which they were employed suggested that they must have worked on them in training, so why let City off in the first half?
In the end, of course, it was in vain as City caught Albion on the break twice and the final scoreline was a little harsh on the Baggies. I suspect the fear of being caught on the break was Pulis’s reasoning behind his first half tactics, but the Baggies were always unlikely to keep a clean sheet so a more attacking approach was needed – they did look dangerous in the second half and, despite the 4-0 result, I did take some positives from the game. Conversely, though, I was also extremely frustrated as to what might have been.
The Foxes will present a different challenge, but Pulis must not make the same mistakes he did against Manchester City. Obviously, Yacob will return to the side but Albion will be without Chadli who had a knee operation this week and James McClean who is suspended. Morrison must start and with those absences, there might also be a place for Jonathan Leko. Unfortunately, I suspect that Pulis may turn to Gardner, who admittedly scored a wonderful free kick in Albion’s 2-2 draw at the King Power stadium last season, and while I sincerely hope that Fletcher is rested, the lack of options in midfield will probably see him play.
Leicester’s style will obviously be very different to that of Guardiola’s team, and the high press that Albion employed on Saturday may not be appropriate, but Pulis needs to send out a team to win the game. A point may be considered a good result, but without a win since mid-September, the Baggies desperately need all three having dropped to 16th place. Leicester will be without first choice ‘keeper, Kasper Schmeichel, who broke his hand on Wednesday night, and Albion need to capitalise on any uncertainty there might be in the hosts back line as a result.
Pulis needs a result, and he normally gets one when he does. Albion to nick it.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
1 Mar 2016 – Premier League
Leicester City 2 (Drinkwater, King)
West Brom 2 (Rondón, Gardner)
1 Nov 2014 – Premier League
Leicester City 0
West Brom 1 (Cambiasso (o.g.))
Albion’s Record against Leicester City
|Premier League Record|