Swansea v West Brom preview – Albion need to win their mental battle
It would be unfair to call this a must-win for Alan Pardew so soon into his tenure – but it is arguably one for players.
Despite the bad weather across the UK, the game is set to go ahead in Wales, giving the new boss the chance to lead out his side for the first time away from The Hawthorns.
Pardew hasn't had long to get his point across, but a trip to crisis club Swansea offers his team a glorious chance to end a winless run which is now nearing four months.
The new boss says it's been more of a psychological than a physical battle in his first full week on the training field.
Pardew has been impressed with his squad's fitness levels, but reckons it's their mentality that needs work.
He's also been pleasantly surprised by their togetherness. It's odd to go into a new club with things so stable in the dressing room – normally, it's crisis management in the opening few weeks.
But Pardew reckons this honest group just needs the freedom to express themselves and the confidence to do it.
“It’s been nice to have the week to work on stuff and change a few things," he said. "We've started working on the psychology of the group rather than the fitness side of it. Sometimes managers come in and say ‘the group is not fit enough’ but I don’t see that problem here.
“I think it’s about confidence and a psychology to express themselves a bit more – they’re the two main areas I’ve worked on this week."
So how do you go about improving confidence? The key for Pardew is not one big gesture, but thousands of little ones.
“All sorts of things," he said. "On the board, in the classroom, on the pitch, in the dining room. All the little bits help. I even said ‘well done’ to the chef for his stew, which was excellent!"
Positivity has been the buzzword since his arrival, and we saw hallmarks of it in his first game in charge.
However, he's unlikely to stick with the three-pronged strike force – which was a statement more than anything else – and is expected to opt for two up front after a better second half with that system against Crystal Palace.
But more important than the formation, will be the intent. Albion have been guilty this season of inviting out-of-sort teams like Southampton, Brighton and Huddersfield onto them and playing them into form.
Swansea are on the lowest of lows, with one goal and one point from their previous five games and a manager on the brink.
And Pardew has been trying to coax some creativity out of his team in order to hurt Paul Clement's team.
“I've just tried to give them a clear platform to go out and have the freedom to play," he said. “I could go and get a non-league team to be a really strong, disciplined, defensive team but are they going to create anything? It would be difficult.
“But with this standard of players and the workrate we put in, we should be creating more than we do."
His creative options could be bolstered by the return of Chris Brunt and Matt Phillips to the squad, although both are expected to be named on the bench.
Gareth Barry will miss the game with a thigh injury, meaning Sam Field and Claudio Yacob are due to keep their places.
Pardew's hoping it'll be enough for three points, but once he's given them a platform to attack, the rest is up to the players.
"I can give them confidence on the training ground and approach games in a confident manner but it is about delivering on a Saturday afternoon and at the moment that is where we are falling down," he said.
"If we go to Swansea and get a draw it’ll be a decent result. But we’ll still have the pressure over us of getting a win. We need to try to get across that bridge as quickly as we can."
Albion key man - Salomon Rondon
Salomon Rondon has looked rejuvenated in recent weeks, and Pardew has seen flashes of brilliance from him in training this week. He scored a hat-trick of headers against Swansea last season and now would be a great time to start putting the ball in the back of the net.
Swansea dangerman - Tammy Abraham
The Chelsea loanee is Swansea’s top scorer this season with five goals, and even though he’s gone off the boil recently, he’s still the most likely player to find the net in this goal-shy team. The Swans have only scored one in their last five games, so they could use a bit of spark from the youngster.
Albion (4-4-2): Foster; Nyom, Hegazi, Evans (c), Gibbs; Robson-Kanu, Livermore, Yacob, Field; Rodriguez, Rondon.
Subs: Myhill, McAuley, Krychowiak, Phillips, Brunt, McClean, Burke.
Swansea (4-3-1-2): Fabianski, Olsson, Mawson, Van Der Hoorn, Naughton, Clucas, Ki, Fer, Ayew, Abraham, Bony.
Subs: Nordfeldt, Dyer, Carroll, Routledge, Rangel, Sanches, McBurnie.
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