Stick or twist? Slaven Bilic has big West Brom calls to make
It’s a case of decisions, decisions for head coach Slaven Bilic as Albion prepare to face Brentford tonight.
Following football’s three-month suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Baggies resumed their push for promotion against Blues last weekend.
A draw may not have been the result they were hoping for.
But the truth is Albion played very well against Pep Clotet’s side.
From the first whistle to the last, they enjoyed almost complete control.
The only thing missing was a touch of quality and composure in the final third.
In reality, they were a bit rusty – something which is understandable after a three-month break.
But Brentford pose a very different threat from a Blues side who were set up with the sole aim of trying to get a point.
The Bees are a much better footballing side. And in Bryan Mbeumo, Said Benrahma and Ollie Watkins, they have three forwards who would all command transfer fees in excess of £20million.
The first thing Bilic has to decide heading into the game is what formation to play.
With 4-3-3 having been so successful prior to lockdown, it was something of a surprise to see the boss revert to a 4-2-3-1 system for the Blues clash.
There can be no doubt Albion dominated the ball in the West Midlands derby.
But Brentford are more technically gifted. They also line-up in a 4-3-3 formation with Mathias Jensen, Christian Norgaard and Josh Dasilva likely to be their midfield trio.
Back in September – playing a similar 4-3-3 system – Fulham took control of the opening 20 minutes when they faced Albion in London.
It wasn’t until Bilic moved Matheus Pereira from his number 10 role into a more central midfield position that the Baggies got a foothold on the game.
And now the boss has to decide if Jake Livermore and Romaine Sawyers can cope on their own in the middle of the park or if they would benefit by having Filip Krovinovic alongside them.
Bilic also has a call to make at right-back where Dara O’Shea may get the nod ahead of Darnell Furlong.
In the past, the head coach has tended to go with one attacking full-back and one that is more defensively minded.
But he went with Furlong and Kieran Gibbs against Blues – two players who are at their best going forward.
With the talented Benrahma likely to start on the left, Bilic may feel bringing back O’Shea will make his defence that little bit tighter.
Whatever team and system the Croatian goes for, however, this game looks set to be cracker. Unlike Blues, Brentford will attack and look to the win game.
That will allow Albion to counter – something they are great at but rarely get to do.
It will also mean there is more space for the likes of Pereira, Callum Robinson and Grady Diangana to exploit.
Without question, this is a battle between two of the best footballing teams in the division.
Both have the quality to win it. But while Brentford have won a lot of plaudits recently, they have lost 11 games this season.
Albion will be confident they can make it 12 and further strengthen their position at the top of the table.
Albion predicted team: Johnstone, Gibbs, Ajayi, Hegazi, O'Shea, Krovinovic, Livermore. Sawyers, Robinson, Pereira, Robson-Kanu.