West Brom v Derby - match preview
His attacking players responded to the call to up their game.
And now Slaven Bilic has challenged Albion’s defenders to get back to their best as his side prepares to take on in-form Derby.
The Baggies have now played four matches since football was able to return following the coronavirus outbreak.
It should be said, against Blues, Brentford and Sheffield Wednesday they defended very well.
But they looked a lot more shaky during Saturday’s 4-2 win over Hull.
In the end it didn’t matter. Albion’s attacking stars – who had looked rusty in those opening games – were well and truly back to their best against Grant McCann’s side.
Blowing away a struggling Hull side is one thing, however.
And Bilic knows his team must rediscover their solidity if they are to overcome Phillip Cocu’s men and get the win they crave.
To do that, Bilic will need more from his centre-halves and the midfielders protecting them.
At his pre-match press conference on Monday, the boss pointed out he didn’t feel there was anything wrong with Albion’s positioning or shape against Hull.
Instead, he just felt his players didn’t deal with their direct threat as efficiently as they should have.
“There were positive and negatives,” the boss said when talking about his team’s defensive display against Hull. “It wasn’t that we didn’t have numbers – or that our shape was wrong. But we struggled to deal with simple balls.
“We have to give them credit for that, they had quality in their long-balls and they had quality up front.
“Our players were there – but they weren’t good enough at dealing with those situations, especially in the air.
“We were in good positions, but we didn’t deal with loose balls and second balls as well.
“It’s about engagement, it’s about confidence and it’s about belief.
“And it’s about the quality of your game on that day.
“The same kind of balls we dealt with extremely well, just three days earlier against Sheffield Wednesday. It’s about our performance.”
With Ahmed Hegazi picking up a red card in the win over the Tigers, Semi Ajayi seems certain to come back into Albion’s back four tonight.
He will line-up alongside Kyle Bartley – restoring a partnership that has been hugely successful this season.
And with Wayne Rooney pulling the strings for Derby in midfield, Bilic must be tempted to put Jake Livermore back in his starting line-up.
The skipper felt a twinge in his hamstring against Brentford – with that knock meaning he has started the last two games on the bench.
But his introduction against Hull made Albion more secure. And Bilic may task him with shackling the threat of his former England team-mate Rooney.
If Albion do get it right at the back, it will then be a case of letting the forward players do their thing.
A lot has been said and written about Matheus Pereira’s performance against Hull.
Quite simply, the Brazilian was sensational and showed why many people believe he is the best player in the division.
But it wasn’t just him. Kamil Grosikci scored on his first Baggies start.
And his speed and directness not only gave Albion a different type of threat – it also created space for others.
Grady Diangana, too, was sensational when he came on – with the West Ham loanee scoring a cracking goal and looking every inch the player that took the Championship by storm in the first six months of the season.
“It was more than a goal, more than a performance – it was like ‘yeah, I’m back’. It’s great for him, and for us,” Bilic said on Diangana’s display.
Going forward, Albion should have no worries. But they also need to keep it tight at the back in order to be successful this evening.
Predicted team: Johnstone, Townsend, Ajayi, Bartley, O'Shea, Krovinovic, Sawyers, Livermore, Diangana, Pereira, Austin