RAWK preview - Liverpool v West Bromwich Albion 11 Feb 20:00

Posted by royhendo on February 6, 2013, 09:36:49 AM

"He drives where he wants
He drives where he wants
Odemwingie
He drives where he wants."


The Spurs fans, last weekend.

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I often tune in to 5 Live following Sunday games (such as last weekend's against Man City) because I've reached a happy stage where things like 606 and The Monday Night Club have become a kind of satire - easing the craving until the next season of The Thick Of It starts up again.

Sunday's show featured a West Brom fan whose accent could only be described as "Russ Abbott does Shankly", Andrew in Dudley.

"Hullo, Alan.

Alan.

West Bromwich Albion.

At the start of the season we were sailing along like a stately gallion. But the sails, the course, had been set by Roy Hodgson... Roy Hodgson's team, Roy Hodgson's tactics. It was seamless, the move from Roy to Steve Clark.

Now question marks are beginning to arise. We've had injury problems with Mulumbu, and then Mulumbu went to the African Nations Cup. We had problems with Yacob, so the two midfield powerhouses were out of the game, and there were problems.

That's not Steve Clark's fault.

But now, I think there are very real questions. And Steve Clark's gonna have to stand up to the plate and prove that he's not a coach - he's a manager.

He can't turn round now and say, "What are we gonna do about Odemwingie?" He's got to decide what to do about Odemwingie.

Popov - spitting today. Disgusting. He can't turn round and say, "Boss, what are we gonna do now?". He's the manager. He's got to decide what he's gonna do.

Olsson. Gave the fans two fingers for berating him a bit. Once again, Steve Clark's got to decide what he's gonna do.

The buck stops with Steve Clark now.

Now there are one or two questions over Steve Clark. He's changed Hodgson's style a wee bit. He's had some of that forced on him by injuries. But I do feel that the next couple of weeks are gonna tell us whether Steve Clark is a true successor to Roy Hodgson or not."


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I dunno, bloody Scotsmen supporting English clubs. Fly by nights, the lot of them.

But he has a point in a way, our Andrew. West Brom's next two fixtures are Liverpool away, and Sunderland at home. I suppose that's a neat barometer for their standing in two successive games, isn't it? A team in Liverpool that sits two points ahead of them, but recently ascendant, in form at home, and fresh from dominating the champions on their home paddock, then a club somehow breathing down their necks in league terms, despite what's been seen almost universally as a lacklustre season to date in Sunderland. Sunderland lie 5 points behind West Brom in 12th. Liverpool two points ahead in 7th.

In a way, it's a decent test of their mettle, the next two fixtures. But in another, it betrays the fickle nature of the modern football fan.

I'd tentatively suggest that West Brom are, along with Swansea, the best run club in the Premier League. We're led to believe that for years their recruitment and selection of staff has been based on a joined up strategy, and has involved in-depth research as to how each choice would fit. That's seen them make steady progress year-on-year to the point they've arrived at now. Safe in mid-table in the Premier League, with a strong strategic base to build from, enjoying an Icarus-style altitude in early season with a stylish 4-2-3-1 (occasionally 4-4-2) and a swashbuckling counter attacking style referenced around a strong spine, and in particular the impressive Lukaku up front.

Andrew pointed at three of their key strengths in his chat with Alan Green, of course. Olsson, Mulumbu and Yakub have been a formidable foundation for their play, with decent players around them starting pre-season fresh from a spell of typical Hodgson shape drilling, and with a lauded coach in Clark ready to take that a step further.

Thus we had our noses bloodied on the opening day, albeit with our fair share of rotten luck, after which West Brom drew away to Spurs with a well deserved late leveller, despatched Everton at home in convincing style, and from there went on to beat Chelsea, while impressing week in and week out with their organisation and verve on the break, with players like Morrison impressing on a regular basis.

At that stage, sat in the Champions League slots, fans must have been pinching themselves, and lauding their new manager. Fast forward a few weeks and the club's slipped a few places, and sit 20th in the Premier League form table.

Strikers driving to Loftus Road on deadline day, full backs spitting at opposing players, centre halves flicking the Vs at the home support, injuries, absentees...

Yacob is back, albeit seemingly not fully fit, while Mulumbu is set to return. But it seems the standard worry will be West Brom's power and ability on the counter, something we've discussed at length on here and elsewhere this season. In Lukaku, they have powerful, quick reference point, while Morrison adds a sprinkling of culture in their link and support play. We'll need to manage the game in that area, while imposing our own game, as we've become accustomed to seeing since Sturridge joined. Lucas and Gerrard, you'd expect, will be key in stemming their flow in that area, but we've arrived at a nice balance in recent weeks, and you'd hope we'll deal with them.

You'd expect them to set up in their standard 4-2-3-1, with their classic compact counter-attacking set up, ceding the vast majority of possession and focussing on maintaining their shape, while springing out on the counter. We'll pose fresh problems for their defensive organisation, however. They're strong in defensive midfield, so it'll be interesting to see where Suarez starts. Man City's problems often stemmed from the spaces behind Barry and Garcia, didn't they? If West Brom compress that area and cede too much space to us deep, we've seen what Gerrard can do to a side from there. On the other hand, if they neglect that zone in front of the centre halves, be it occupied by Suarez, Sturridge, or a combination of the two... they have a few conundrums to solve. And we have options in terms of our starting positions in the front four. 

In terms of sub-plots, it'll be interesting to see if Countinho gets a run out at any stage, and ideally we'll see the continuation of Henderson's growth. But who knows.

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As with all our previews, please note that RAWK will mute anyone posting just a formation in a Preview thread until the day after the match is over. This is to improve the quality of preview replies. Formations posted alongside rational comments and debate are exempt. Thanks, RAWK.

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