Express & Star

Middlesbrough v West Brom preview: The first glimpse of Albion's class of 22/23

The opening day of the new season always brings with it plenty of questions.


And it’s fair to say Albion fans will be on the edge of their seats waiting for the team news ahead of this clash at Middlesbrough – with manager Steve Bruce having some big calls to make.

The main one will centre on Karlan Grant and where – if at all – he starts.

Bruce only has two options up front in Grant and Daryl Dike.

The American striker is still working his way up to full speed following the thigh injury which ruled him out of the best part of six months last season.

But he scored an excellent goal in the friendly against Hertha Berlin last weekend.

And his movement, combined with his pace and power means he is likely to get the nod up front at the Riverside Stadium.

It’s still going to be a tough call for Bruce to make.

Grant was Albion’s only reliable source of goals last season, with the former Huddersfield man scoring 18 times.

He also scored three in pre- season, a stat that has somewhat gone under the radar.

There are many, though, who believe the 24-year-old is at his best from the left.

But that will put him in direct competition with Grady Diangana to start – a player Albion fans are desperate to see thrive.

Everyone knows, talent-wise, Diangana is one of the best players in the Championship.

Yet he’s struggled for form over the past two years.

There have been signs over pre-season, though, that he is getting back to his best.

The former West Ham man is naturally more creative than Grant.

And the thought of him on one flank creating chances for Dike and Jed Wallace on the other is exciting.

Grant, though, is a far more reliable goalscorer.

And for that reason, it is likely he will get the nod at the Riverside.

The only other big call Bruce has to make is at centre-back.

Semi Ajayi will start and is likely to be partnered by Dara O’Shea.

But Kyle Bartley is also pushing to start.

When Albion won promotion under Slaven Bilic in 2021, Ajayi and Bartley were the backbone of the defence.

O’Shea, though, is widely regarded as an Albion captain in-waiting so it will be interesting to see which way Bruce goes.

Elsewhere, the Baggies team is expected to pick itself.

David Button will likely be in goal with Darnell Furlong and Conor Townsend at full-back.

In what will be a 4-3-3 formation out of possession – but a 4-2-3-1 with the ball, Jayson Molumby, Alex Mowatt and John Swift are expected to be the midfield three with Jake Livermore missing out last weekend due to being ill. The game will also come too soon for Okay Yokuslu.

Up front, Grant is likely to be on the left with Wallace on the right and Dike central.