West Brom Carlos Corberan with big decisions to make ahead of Championship return
Central defence is arguably Albion’s best-stocked position and Carlos Corberan has underlined the importance of depth ahead of this weekend’s return to action.
Championship high-flyers Ipswich, behind leaders Leicester on goal difference alone, visit The Hawthorns on Saturday in an intriguing clash with the Tractor Boys on a huge high following League One promotion last season.
Each fixture comes with a fair conundrum on the make-up of Corberan’s defence, especially at the heart of it. Kyle Bartley, Cedric Kipre, Semi Ajayi and Erik Pieters are the senior options and have each been regulars at varying stages so far this term. Caleb Taylor, the highly-rated more youthful options, is waiting in the wings.
And that is before considering both full-backs Conor Townsend and Darnell Furlong are no strangers to operating in a back three if and when required. Midfielder Okay Yokuslu also has it in his repertoire.
“This is very important,” Corberan said. “You can only achieve consistency on the pitch if all of your squad is working in the same direction.
“The fact that you play with one, or another one, is not going to have a massive impact in the things you can do in attack and in defence.”
The Spanish head coach has placed particular emphasis on defensive versatility this season. Albion train regularly switching between the more usual defensive five and a back four.
Corberan likes fluency in the option of both systems and a back four has been used in the last couple of games against Hull and Southampton, two difficult fixtures.
Kipre leads the way for Albion in terms of league appearances having played in 15 of the 16 games so far. He also leads the way for defensive stats from a Baggies perspective, with 19 tackles in his own defensive third among the leading figures in the division.
Clearly, using the judgement of our eyes, Kipre is enjoying a fine campaign and has developed into a top Championship centre-back.
All of Albion’s defensive options possess different qualities. Kipre is the cooler and more composed on the ball. Bartley (12 league appearances) is the more physically dominant, 35-year-old Pieters (13) calls on vast experience and know-how to excel in a positional sense. Nigeria international Ajayi (10) – who scored a first goal for his country last week – is the quickest across the ground.
Most managers talk up the importance of a squad game in mind to keep players happy, but Albion’s head coach places particular importance on substitutes in all departments, not just in defence. That is a factor that comes with a limited sized squad.
The Spaniard puts as much thought into his bench options as his first XI, with what replacements can offer from minute 50-60 minutes onwards.
“It’s true that every player is different,” Corberan continued. “Here we have every player and they all have something that only they have.
“Something you see in one player you’re not going to see in another. What I see in Bartley are special in him and you don’t see in Ajayi. What you can see in Semi, you are not going to see in Kyle.
“It’s very positive to have this, players who can give you options during the game, or in different games, without losing the identity of the team. That’s the most important thing for me.”