On the back of two tightly-contested defeats West Bromwich Albion will be looking to get back to winning ways when they host second-bottom Southampton at the Hawthorns on Monday (8pm GMT, live on Sky Sports).
West Brom are currently eighth in the Premier League after a good start to the season that has seen them record four wins, two draws and three defeats to date.
The Baggies were unfortunate to succumb to an injury time winner in their 2-1 defeat away to Newcastle last weekend, a result that came a week after Manchester City had scored twice in the final ten minutes to defeat them by the same score.
Both results were a kick in the teeth for new head coach Steve Clarke and his charges, but solace will have been taken from the level of performance in both matches. Apart from the need to work on concentration when defending a lead or point, there are few glaring deficiencies to be righted in this WBA side.
Clarke has largely persisted with the style and form espoused by his predecessor Roy Hodgson, primarily operating with two banks of four in defence and midfield, with either one advanced midfielder (usually James Morrison) behind a lone striker or two out-and-out strikers ahead of them.
West Brom have the requisite personnel to effectively deploy such tactics, with pace and trickery in wide areas and up front, a solid defence and a central midfield pairing that successfully combines brains and brawn. Long-time regular Youssouf Mulumbu provides the brawn and new signing Claudio Yacob – whose excellent reading of the game has been clear to see during his positive start to life in England – supplies the brains.
The West Brom job is Clarke’s first head coach role after many years as a highly respected assistant to the likes of Jose Mourinho, Gianfranco Zola and Kenny Dalglish. He has thus far given little indication that he is out of his depth and has in fact impressed with decisive substitutions that have had a positive effect on the team.
With Yacob, Chris Brunt and Shane Long all likely to be in contention to start on Monday after recovering from their respective injuries, Clarke will be confident of racking up a fifth home victory of the season against a Southampton side who have taken just one point from their last five Premier League fixtures.
Poor defending has been Southampton’s primary problem since returning to the top flight. They have conceded 26 times in their 9 matches to date, comfortably the worst record of any team in the Premier League. They have scored more goals (14) than 11 other teams in the division, but simply cannot continue to concede an average of nearly three goals per match if they are to have any pretensions of staying up.
Saints’ record of one win, one draw and seven defeats is clear relegation form and has seen questions start to be raised over the future of manager Nigel Adkins. Such talk is premature and very harsh on a man who has secured back-to-back promotions over the last two seasons, but such is the cut-throat nature of the Premier League that it would not be wholly surprising to see him relieved of his duties if results do not quickly improve.
Adkins has received a timely boost with the recovery from injury of record-signing Gaston Ramirez. The Uruguayan has trained well all week and looks likely to be parachuted directly into the starting eleven for Monday’s fixture. A tall, languid playmaker, Ramirez showed flashes of brilliance in the 4-1 home win over Aston Villa in late-September and after five weeks out could provide the spark to get Saints’ season back on track.
However, his attacking interventions are unlikely to be sufficient if Adkins cannot find a solution to the club’s defensive woes. There is a feeling amongst the club’s supporters that the money spent on Ramirez, or indeed the £7 million splashed out on Jay Rodriguez, would have been better spent on a central defender to replace Jose Fonte, a carryover from the club’s League One days.
Fonte has looked out of his depth in the Premier League and a more reliable partner for Maya Yoshida, signed from VVV (Venlose Voetbal Vereniging) of the Netherlands in the summer, will surely be Adkins’ first priority in January. That is presuming of course that he is still the one dictating Southampton’s transfer targets.
WBA v Southampton Betting Tips Verdict
West Brom have won four of their five home matches so far this season while Southampton (21/5 – just over 4/1 – to win this match with BetVictor) have failed to pick up a single point on their travels, conceding three or more goals in each of their four away matches to date. The draw is best priced at 3/1, also with BetVictor.
WBA are determined to put the past two weeks behind them and secure three points that would them back into top six contention. They should have enough to emerge victorious against a Southampton side whose defending has been little short of inept at times.