Preview: West Bromwich Albion

The impact of squandering of a three-goal lead to only draw Saturday’s game against Swansea City could linger for a while yet, especially with Coventry City set to face two tough games, against an in-form West Bromwich Albion and 2nd-place Sheffield United either side of Christmas Day. For Mark Robins and his players it is about demonstrating that they can take the positives out of Saturday’s result – i.e. racing to a three-goal lead against a good side – in order to keep the team in a decent league position heading into the new year.

This first game out of the two, against West Bromwich Albion, sets Coventry City against an opponent who are in the exact kind of form the Sky Blues were around a month ago. Without a World Cup break to disrupt their momentum, the Baggies are a dangerous prospect, especially considering that they already possessed an array of high-calibre Championship performers prior to this new manager-inspired surge in form. For the first time in a few games, this is a match in which Coventry enter as the underdogs.

Expected Line-Up

Possible Line-Up (3-4-2-1): Wilson; Rose, Doyle, Panzo; Jack Burroughs, Sheaf, Hamer, Bidwell; Allen, O'Hare; Gyokeres.

The biggest area of concern for Coventry City heading into this game is the inability to take one or two of the youngsters in the team’s defence out of the firing line in order to shore things up in the wake of Saturday’s capitulation. At least two of Swansea City’s three goals at the weekend came from exploiting the frailty of both Jack Burroughs at right wing-back and Callum Doyle in the middle of the back three, it’s only the former that Mark Robins may be able to do anything about.

Despite Fankaty Dabo being on the bench on Saturday, that it was Todd Kane that came on for just an eight-minute spell indicates that it is only the latter who is a serious option to replace Jack Burroughs for this game. Given how out of favour Kane appears to be, Mark Robins may be of a mind to keep Burroughs in the side so that he can learn from his defensive struggles at the weekend, with his ability to quickly get forward on the counter-attack something that could be useful for the team in this game.

As for the rest of the defence, Mark Robins really doesn’t have any choice but to stick with them. It shouldn’t be forgotten either that the back three performed both confidently and adeptly for 60 minutes at the weekend, with what happened in the final half hour potentially serving as a reminder of the importance of concentration and keeping things simple when in a winning position.

Elsewhere, the midfield four and Viktor Gyokeres in attack is clearly the best thing about this Coventry City side at the moment and it would be silly to break that up unless there are players who are short of full fitness. Doing something like switching to two up top or bringing Liam Kelly into the midfield would feel a pretty extreme reaction to a formula that saw the team score three times in 60 minutes at the weekend.

Last Time We Met

With both teams harbouring remote chances of making the play-offs in the final weeks of last season, it was surprising how little either Coventry City and West Bromwich Albion put into trying to win the game at The Hawthorns back in April. It was the Sky Blues that had much of the best of the play, however, most it came via Callum O’Hare who had one of those days where almost every decision he made was the wrong one.

As the final whistle approached, West Bromwich Albion were handed a chance to win the game, with the Baggies’ Callum Robinson throwing himself to the ground in the penalty area. However, Ben Wilson in the Coventry City goal guessed right from the spot-kick to earn the Sky Blues a share of the points.

The Opposition

The Manager – Carlos Corberan

After two years at Huddersfield Town, culminating in a play-off final defeat to Nottingham Forest in the summer, to begin his managerial career in earnest, Carlos Corberan has ended up at The Hawthorns following an ill-fated stint at Olympiakos earlier this season. A former Leeds United youth-team coach who was highly-regarded by managerial legend, Marcelo Bielsa, Corberan found success at Huddersfield last year with a more pragmatic style of football than would be expected of someone of his background, however, that may have been more of a reflection of the resources available to him than his ideals.

Since taking over at West Bromwich Albion, Carlos Corberan has first lent on the defence-first style that found success at Huddersfield last season, but there are signs that this team will eventually be able to control and dominate games on a consistent basis. Part of that is because West Brom already had a pretty strong squad for this level, just one that was woefully underperforming in terms of results under Corberan’s predecessor, Steve Bruce. Part of the team’s recent improvement can be attributed to a regression to the mean, but it is to Corberan’s credit that he has been able to turn things around so quickly.

Who To Look Out For?

Possible Line-Up (4-3-3): Palmer; Furlong, O'Shea, Pieters, Townsend; Yokuslu, Swift, Molumby; Phillips, Wallace, Dike.

Although West Bromwich Albion threaten to be gripped by some serious off-field issues, that they were able to sign two of the Championship’s best players over the summer, in Jed Wallace and John Swift, goes to show that they can still flex their muscles as a recent former Premier League outfit. Wallace and Swift make up for an impressive array of attacking, creative options at The Hawthorns, with former Celtic creative lynchpin, Tom Rogic, another recent high-calibre addition to those ranks, along with the pace and skill of wingers Matt Phillips and Grady Diangana.

One of the issues for West Bromwich Albion in recent times has been finding a striker to get on the end of the team’s creative play, that could well have been solved by the return of Daryl Dike to full fitness after a long spell out injured. The United States international was excellent for Barnsley – under the management of ex-Baggies boss, Valerien Ismael – two seasons ago, often bludgeoning through defences with his sheer physicality, pace and desire to win every ball. Against a youthful Coventry City backline, Dike could be devastating.

In midfield, Turkey international, Okay Yokuslu has started to find form under Carlos Corberan, having once been a strong performer for West Brom in the Premier League. As the sitting midfielder alongside two attack-minded creative players, in John Swift and Tom Rogic, Yokuslu plays an important role for the Baggies. That is especially so given that the team is a touch slow at the back.

Finally, full-backs, Darnell Furlong and Conor Townsend are perfectly capable of supplementing West Brom’s attacking play with their energy and quality on the ball going forward. Of the two, Townsend offers more going forward, while Furlong is more solid defensively.

Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost

The biggest concern for Coventry City in this game is just how they look to contain West Bromwich Albion’s attacking threat with a defence that is short on both physicality and experience, and may also be feeling sorry for itself after the last half hour of Saturday’s game. Most notably, West Brom’s Daryl Dike could really give the likes of Callum Doyle and Jonathan Panzo the run around if allowed a free run at them, making it vital that the midfield works hard to limit the service into the away team’s big man in attack. However, there is still the danger that players like Jed Wallace, Tom Rogic and John Swift can pick moments of quality while attention is diverted towards the Baggies’ big man up front.

With West Bromwich Albion possessing several very adept ball-players, particularly around the penalty area, Coventry City’s midfield is going to have to be careful not to get dragged around the pitch, which could leave space open for quick switches of play and time on the ball for the Baggies’ dangerous, creative players. A key strategy for the Sky Blues this season has been to leave themselves somewhat short in the midfield and trust the defence to funnel the opposition out wide, that may prove to be less effective against an opponent of West Brom’s quality and without Kyle McFadzean to steer the back-line through the game.

As for how Coventry City can threaten West Bromwich Albion, the prospect of Viktor Gyokeres and Callum O’Hare running at a pretty slow back-line should be considered an enticing one. If the Sky Blues can execute a similar game-plan to the one utilised against Swansea City for the first hour of Saturday’s game, Gyokeres and O’Hare should be able to get into some very good positions on a regular basis. Given the defensive concerns, being able to get on the front-foot as often as possible may be the optimal strategy for this game.

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