Preview: West Bromwich Albion

The combination of three points against Huddersfield Town and keeping hold of the team’s best players on January transfer deadline day has likely put to bed any fears of Coventry City being dragged back into relegation danger this season. While thoughts are already seemingly turning to next year, this trip to West Bromwich Albion represents an opportunity to maintain interest in the current campaign, with a win putting the Sky Blues one point off the top six ahead of the rest of the weekend’s fixtures.

While the patchy form since the World Cup may make a top six push feel somewhat fanciful right now, victory against a genuine play-off contender would go a long way to changing that sentiment. There really is no reason right now to feel like the season is over and even if Coventry City can’t make up the gap to the top six this year, putting in the best possible effort to go close would be good practice for next time around.

Expected Line-Up

Possible Line-Up (3-4-2-1): Wilson; McNally, Doyle, Panzo; Norton-Cuffy, Sheaf, Hamer, Bidwell; Allen, Palmer; Gyokeres.

With no new additions or major departures on January transfer deadline day, Mark Robins has pretty much the same hand to play as he did last week against Huddersfield Town. That hand has been boosted recently by Josh Eccles and Matt Godden returning to action after injuries, as well as Kyle McFadzean and Tyler Walker edging closer to full fitness too, on top of the four January signings that were made.

As for the starting line-up for this game, however, there doesn’t appear to be a huge scope for change. That is especially in light of a lot of the team’s recent injury issues having been caused by rushing players back from previous injuries too soon, which probably puts the kibosh on Kyle McFadzean being involved here, as well as probably a start for Matt Godden too. With numbers short in midfield and attack, it is only in the wing-back positions that Mark Robins has options available to him.

On the right side, Brooke Norton-Cuffy has yet to really show what he can do in a Coventry City shirt after three consecutive starts, but the manager may feel he remains a better option right now than a half-fit Josh Eccles or a raw Jack Burroughs. On the left, Jake Bidwell has competition for a starting place in the form of recent loan signing, Josh Wilson-Esbrand, but this is probably not the type of game to bring a youngster in for their first ever league start.

Last Time We Met

West Bromwich Albion were in excellent form as they made the trip to the CBS Arena to take on a Coventry City side in the early stages of a post-World Cup slump. However, it was the Sky Blues who made almost all of the running in the game, dominating possession to pen West Brom into their own half and were only denied an opening goal by some determined Baggies defending.

The game looked set to play out as a disappointing draw for Coventry City, only for Viktor Gyokeres to go on a typical run to beat several defenders and then draw a foul from West Brom’s Erik Pieters to win a penalty. With the Swede far from a convincing spot-kick taker, there were nerves a plenty in the home stands, but Gyokeres produced a confident finish to hand the Sky Blues a last minute victory in what is something of a local derby.

The Opposition

The Manager – Carlos Corberan

That defeat just before Christmas was nothing more than a bump in the road for West Bromwich Albion’s revival under Carlos Corberan. The Baggies have only lost one other league game since he took charge in November, running league leaders, Burnley, close in a 2-1 defeat, as they have narrowed in on the play-offs. The Spaniard has got West Brom incredibly well-drilled out of possession, allowing their talented attacking players to make the difference at the other end of the pitch.

Carlos Corberan’s excellent work in the dug-out has gone a small way to masking the state of chaos that West Bromwich Albion are in off-the-pitch, due to the way in which owner, Guochuan Lai, has managed the club’s finances. The pressure really is on Corberan to lead West Brom out of this division this season, before the consequences of the club’s parlous off-field position bite in the off-season. It really is a testament to Corberan’s managerial talents that, thus far, those issues haven’t affected his management of the team.

Who To Look Out For?

Possible Line-Up (4-2-3-1): Palmer; Furlong, O'Shea, Pieters, Townsend; Molumby, Yokuslu; Diangana, Wallace, Swift; Dike.

The key to West Bromwich Albion’s success under Carlos Corberan has been their excellent defensive organisation, with goalkeeper, Alex Palmer, and defensive midfielder, Okay Yokuslu, being vital in setting the tone at the back. Palmer has finally stepped up to first-choice status between the sticks after several loan spells and is an excellent reaction shot-stopper while also possessing a large physical stature to command his area. Yokuslu is a very disciplined defensive midfielder who can mop up opposition passes and block shots to slow play down in front of his own defence.

That provides an excellent platform for West Bromwich Albion’s attacking players to win games through individual moments. Creative midfielder, John Swift, is provided the licence by that defensive midfield block to get forward towards the opposing penalty area, where his passing and long shooting ability can make the difference. Additionally, Jed Wallace’s energy and skill from either out wide out just behind the striker is a big goal threat. Making up the unit just behind the centre-forward is either the silky-skilled winger, Grady Diangana, the direct wide-player, Matt Phillips, or the inventive Tom Rogic, who can be rotated between depending on the type of game.

Up front, a fully-fit Daryl Dike has been another key reason why West Bromwich Albion have improved so much under Carlos Corberan’s management. The bustling American centre-forward is a significant physical presence who can terrorise opposing defenders on top form, while also possessing the skill and movement to round off attacking moves with aplomb. To switch things up, the raw but effervescent Brandon Thomas-Asante is on call to provide an element of unpredictability to West Brom’s attacking play.

Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost

It would be surprising if this game played out in a similar fashion to the meeting between the two sides back in December, where Coventry City almost completely dominated the play. While West Bromwich Albion can be a pretty pragmatic team under Carlos Corberan’s management, they have tended to be much more proactive in their home games, which could well play into the Sky Blues’ favour.

That is because a counter-attacking game-plan would harness Viktor Gyokeres’ excellent ball-carrying ability on the break, allowing him to run at what is a pretty slow West Bromwich Albion back-line – which is what led to the match-winning penalty in the previous meeting between the two teams. The Baggies are likely to look to crowd Gyokeres out and force him into wide areas, which leaves Kasey Palmer and, to a lesser extent, Gustavo Hamer, with an important role to play in this game of pushing forward to drag defenders away from the Sky Blues’ leading centre-forward.

The main cause for concern for Coventry City is whether the defence can be trusted to build on last week’s clean sheet against a genuinely good attacking unit. Specifically, the physical battle between the powerful Daryl Dike for West Bromwich Albion and the slight Callum Doyle in the heart of the Sky Blues’ defence looks a potential mismatch which would create space elsewhere for West Brom’s other attacking players. With that in mind, it may be an idea to switch the physically stronger Luke McNally from the right to the centre of the back three to take care of that battle, even if it means playing Doyle in a slightly awkward right-sided defensive role.

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