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Behind Enemy Lines: West Bromwich Albion

The Baggies visit SE16…

28 January 2022

Joseph Masi, the West Bromwich Albion reporter for the Express & Star, brings us up to speed with everything Albion.

Head Coach Valérien Ismaël was appointed in the summer and has thus far carried his team to 5th in the League table, however, it seems pressure is building on the former Bayern Munich player.

"Albion’s season so far has really been a case of missed opportunities. And if you look at the XG table Albion are top by a mile, that just shows that they haven’t taken their chances. They have lacked a cutting edge up front all season.

"Jordan Hugill was brought in on loan from Norwich. Other than that, they haven’t got a central striker. They’ve played with Matt Phillips and Callum Robinson in the role, but they’re wingers and they’re not suited to it. Teams have found them out. They sit 11 men behind the ball and counterattack. When teams do that, Albion have struggled to break them down. It’s been frustrating, and ultimately it’s led to a lot of anger amongst the fans."

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Last time out, Albion suffered a 2-0 defeat to Preston at The Hawthorns – a fourth defeat in their last six games.

“It was significantly worse than usual. In Ismaël’s words ‘they didn’t do the basics, showed no passion and they didn’t show desire.’ In most games Albion have battered teams, they have dominated the ball and put teams under pressure, but the score line doesn’t reflect that.

“Usually, The Baggies have been rock solid defensively. They have the best record in the division. They give up no chances. That wasn’t the case against Preston, who thoroughly deserved their win. They were the only team that was ever going to take anything from the game. It was by far and away The Baggies’ worst performance of the season. They were awful.”

The Baggies boast a phenomenal squad, but ex-Huddersfield man Karlan Grant is the one to watch:

“New signing Daryl Dike picked up a hamstring injury 60 minutes into his full debut. Albion have lacked a centre-forward all season and finally signed one on the first day of the January window, in the shape of Dike. He signed for £7m from Orlando, and it felt like he was the man to solve the problems. He’s out for eight weeks and the team are back to square one.

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“The one player who has carried a goal threat is Karlan Grant. He plays off the left and has 10 goals this season. He is the only player who has chipped in. He is the only threat. Albion have really talented players, but it doesn’t feel like they’re reaching the level they should be. If you stop Grant, it’s hard to see where the goals will come from.”

Elsewhere, England goalkeeper Sam Johnstone looks set to miss out this weekend.

“Sam Johnstone won’t play. He was banned for three games and has since fallen out with Ismaël. The Head Coach asked the ‘keeper to take a place on the bench to reward David Button for his performances in Johnstone’s absence, which resulted in a falling out.

“On the back of that, Johnstone was omitted from the squad completely and The Baggies boss has said that he won’t be involved this coming Saturday. He’s an England goalkeeper so it’s quite a shock.”

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Daniel Ballard nodded home an equaliser for The Lions against Albion earlier in the season, and Masi expects a similar match this time around.

“I think it will be very similar. Millwall will know how Albion set up. Ismaël plays 3-4-3 every single week. There’s a blueprint now to play against Albion that every single team in The Championship knows. Play in a low block, get men behind the ball, and hit them on the counter. That’s your best chance of victory really. Personally, that’s what I expect from Millwall.

“I don’t think they’ll be a lot of chances in the game. It will just come down to who takes their opportunities.”


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