West Brom comment: Where does Matt Phillips fit in?
There was the welcome sight of Matt Phillips on The Hawthorns’ pitch over the weekend.
The influential midfielder was one of Albion’s fab four in the first half of the campaign, but has only started two of the last 17 games due to a nasty ankle tendon injury.
There’s no doubt he will be a useful addition for the inevitable foray into the play-offs, but it’s not exactly clear where he should play.
If the Baggies resort to a back four, then Phillips is a natural fit on the right wing, his preferred position.
But Albion looked comfortable in a 3-5-2 system on Saturday that gets the best out of their lethal front two; Dwight Gayle and Jay Rodriguez.
There were signs that system should be persisted with, and honed in these last four games of the regular season.
But where does Phillips fit into that formation?
He has shone this season in a central midfield role, and came on for Jake Livermore in that position against Preston North End with 20 minutes to go.
But is there enough defensive-minded players in a midfield trio of Phillips, Stefan Johansen and Chris Brunt?
All of those three are ball-players who naturally look forward, but all three are vulnerable to the opposition drifting past them.
Based on the past few weeks, Brunt should be playing in the deep-lying playmaker role, and based on the past few games, Johansen deserves to keep his place in the attacking midfield role supporting the front two.
But do those two need a more industrious player alongside them such as Jake Livermore to break up play and pass them the ball? Particularly against the strong opposition Albion will inevitably meet in the play-offs.
Phillips can also play wing-back, of course, but Mason Holgate is equally adept in that position and is more skilled defensively too. He is a more natural fit.
Holgate does have experience at centre-back and could be moved into the right hand side of the back three, shunting Craig Dawson into the middle.
But the Everton loanee has an innate desire to get forward that shouldn’t be curbed.
These are useful problems to have, of course, and could very well be made null and void by injuries or a change in formation.
But even though Phillips is surely in Albion’s first-choice XI, it’s not exactly clear where that should be in a 3-5-2 system.