West Brom v Barnsley: Baggies may have to bide their time
Patience and making the most of their attacking nous are likely to be key if Albion are to get the win they crave against Barnsley tonight.
The Tykes – who currently sit bottom of the Championship – will head to The Hawthorns with a youthful side intent on frustrating Slaven Bilic’s men.
Currently under the guidance of caretaker boss Adam Murray, Barnsley switched to playing three centre-backs in their 1-1 draw with Swansea on Saturday.
And they are expected to line-up in a similar 5-3-2 system tonight.
Albion are likely to have to be patient if they are going to break them down.
But in Romaine Sawyers, Matheus Pereira and Charlie Austin, they have three players whose footballing intelligence should see them over the line.
Sawyers in particular is in for a busy evening. With the visitors playing three central midfielders, he and Jake Livermore will often be outnumbered.
But if he can get on the ball and find Pereira, Grady Diangana and Matt Phillips between the lines, Albion should get plenty of joy.
Bilic will hope Phillips has recovered from a shin problem so he can be restored to the starting XI.
And that’s because the experience he and Austin bring will be particularly useful.
The Tykes have a policy where they do not sign players aged over 23 – with their centre-backs expected to be Bambo Diaby (21), Toby Sibbick (20) and Aapo Halme (21).
All three are talented. But collectively they massively lack Championship experience, with Diaby still getting used to English football having arrived from Belgium in the summer.
Murray has changed formations from previous boss Daniel Stendel to compensate for Barnsley’s lack of nous. He hopes having an extra man at the back will make up for it.
But Phillips is a winger who is clever when it comes to mixing up his game.
He knows when to go at his man and when to deliver the ball from deep.
And with the direct Diangana on the other flank, Barnsley will constantly be asked different questions.
It is likely Murray’s Plan A tonight will be to get men behind the ball in a bid to make life difficult for Albion.
That means for Austin in particular it will be difficult to find space. But the 30-year-old is savvy enough to draw defenders into areas they don’t want to be in. And while that may not lead to chances for himself, it will lead to opportunities for others.
Throw in the vision and outrageous passing ability of Pereira and there is so much in Albion’s arsenal they should win the game.
At the back, though, Kyle Bartley and Semi Ajayi will be kept busy by strikers Cauley Woodrow and Conor Chaplin.
Chaplin impressed against Swansea on Saturday, while Woodrow has three goals in nine Championship outings this season.
One thing that may help Albion tonight, though, is the fact Barnsley travel to take on Yorkshire rivals Huddersfield on Saturday.
Despite it being early days, that match looks like it will have a big say in the battle to avoid the drop. And with Tykes fans in need of something to cheer, they may have one eye on securing a result in the derby.
West Brom (4-2-3-1): Johnstone; Ferguson, Ajayi, Bartley, Furlong; Livermore, Sawyers; Diangana, Pereira, Phillips; Austin.
Subs: Bond, Hegazi, Townsend, Brunt, Edwards, Robson-Kanu, Krovinovic.
Barnsley (5-3-2): Collins, Andersen, Halme, Sibbick, Dougall, Cavare, McGeehan, Mowatt, Brown, Woodrow, Chaplin.