Comment: It may be too late but West Brom have given themselves a Premier League toehold

Albion put in another impressive display against Burnley on Saturday.

Sam Allardyce
Sam Allardyce

Just a week after they should have beaten Manchester United, the Baggies dominated Sean Dyche’s side despite playing for over an hour with 10 men.

Once again, though, they couldn’t find the win they needed, meaning with just 13 games remaining they are 11 points from safety.

Here we look at the big talking points heading into what is surely a must-win game against Brighton on Saturday.

Stronger at the back

Defensively, the Baggies have looked a completely different side in their last two outings and there is one big reason why.

In Okay Yokuslu they have finally found a natural holding midfielder who reads the game well, makes interceptions and is also willing to throw himself into tackles.

But with Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Conor Gallagher alongside him in the middle of the park, Albion’s back four is finally getting the protection it needs.

There is no other way to say it – that protection just wasn’t there until Yokuslu and Maitlaind-Niles arrived at the end of January. Crucially, though, Albion’s three midfielders are also forward-thinking, meaning the Baggies are now a side who look well balanced.

And the difference in the numbers is staggering. United’s goal in the 1-1 draw at The Hawthorns came from a stunning Bruno Fernandes volley – which was their only shot on target in the first half – while against Burnley, goalkeeper Sam Johnstone wasn’t really tested at all as the Baggies secured their first clean sheet on the road this season.

Sam Allardyce was brought in to make Albion more defensively secure. Now he is doing it.

Stronger going forward

Expected goals – or xG as it is often known – is an algorithm that works out the number of goals a team should score in a match based on the quality of chances they create.

It gives a fairer reflection of a team’s overall performance as it allows for players missing clear goalscoring opportunities such as one-on-ones and penalties.

All season the Baggies have struggled to create chances, but the arrival of Mbaye Diagne has changed that.

And the xG numbers show they significantly out performed both Manchester United and Burnley.

Against Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side – Albion’s xG score was 0.95, while United’s was 0.42. Against Burnley, Albion’s score was 1.72 while the Clarets’ was 0.54.

Diagne is a big reason for that with the striker creating chances as well as getting on the end of them. The only downside to his performances is that he should have scored a lot more than the solitary goal he has to his name.

Diagne should have netted against Sheffield United. He scored two against Tottenham, only for both to be disallowed due to marginal offsides, and he also should have scored against Manchester United.

At Turf Moor, though, he really did miss an incredible opportunity when he tricked his way past James Tarkowski before firing over from six yards.

Diagne looks to be an incredibly dangerous striker who gives Albion a chance in any game. There is no doubt he has to improve his conversion rate if the Baggies are to survive. But he is capable of doing it – especially if the quality of chances he is getting continues.

Summer transfer woes

There is no denying the signings Albion made in January have made a huge difference to this team.

The impact of Yokuslu, Maitland-Niles and Diagne has been discussed above.

While all fans can see Robert Snodgrass is another addition who has significantly improved the squad – with his nous and Premier League experience crucial. But the success of the January window is just leading to more and more questions about Albion’s summer transfer activity.

Karlan Grant, Grady Diangana and Callum Robinson were high-profile summer additions but all three haven’t featured in the last two games.

They are all good players who will undoubtedly shine for the Baggies if they go down. But in the Premier League they haven’t made the impact they or Albion wanted. Branislav Ivanovic – another supposedly marquee signing – hasn’t even been named in the squad recently while Filip Krovinovic saw his summer loan terminated early.

Had Albion made signings of the quality of Yokuslu, Maitland-Niles, Diagne and Snodgrass earlier, this season would have been very different.

Three home games

Almost all Albion fans expect the team to be in the Championship next year. But it’s still nice to watch a competitive side really give it a go.

The points dropped against Manchester United and Burnley – as well as Fulham and Sheffield United last month – means it is unlikely the Baggies will survive.

But they now have three home games in quick succession against Brighton, Everton and Newcastle.

And if they do beat both Brighton and Newcastle, those teams will suddenly become a lot more jittery. If Albion take seven points from those games, maybe, just maybe, they will have a chance.

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