West Brom v Cardiff: Defensive call for Carlos Corberan as Albion kick off key week
Carlos Corberan has spent months trying to figure out his attack this season but he now has a puzzle at the other end to address.
Albion welcome Cardiff to The Hawthorns tonight – the Bluebirds sit 14th in the Championship but just seven points off the top six – as yet another busy schedule kicks into gear with the run-in in sight.
The head coach has been wary of another demanding few weeks on the horizon – Albion also host in-form Southampton on Friday night and make the long trips to Plymouth and rivals Hull next week – and planned training accordingly with tailored, less-intensive sessions on the advice of medical staff.
Corberan could ill-afford any further issues from Ipswich over the weekend but he, Kyle Bartley and Daryl Dike were not that fortunate.
In the latter’s case, luck has been missing for his entire two years at The Hawthorns.
Dike’s latest blow, likely to be confirmed by Corberan after tonight’s Cardiff tussle, is feared to be another lengthy absence if, as expected, Achilles damage is the case. But the Baggies, thanks to a productive January window, do at least now have more options to call upon in the final third.
Bartley’s calf issue is a concern and the trigger for Corberan’s defensive quandary. Albion couldn’t afford to lose another central defender while Semi Ajayi was away for the African Cup of Nations or, as he has been for the last 24 hours, in transit back to the Black Country following his club boss’ SOS call.
The likelihood of Ajayi starting against the Bluebirds tonight has to be seen as highly unlikely.
He will almost certainly not have been involved in any of Corberan’s physical or tactical sessions and will be barely 48 hours on from the biggest game – and highest emotions – of his career, all on a different continent.
So it leaves the boss with a conundrum as to who partners Cedric Kipre – the Ivorian not selected for Afcon, but whose nation got the better of his Baggies compadre in their home tournament. Corberan labelled loaning Caleb Taylor to Bolton on deadline day a risk in favour of the youngster’s development, and there is an irony that Albion have now finally been caught short in defence.
The most obvious answer is midfielder Okay Yokuslu as part of a back four. The influential Turk will be missed in the middle of the park, no question, just as he was in the second half at Portman Road after a stunning first period. Yokuslu, though, is more than comfortable at the back.
Erik Pieters is also an option, but Corberan would rather play the veteran Dutchman if Albion switched to a back three, which would be tricky.
But tonight’s hosts will fancy themselves in front of the home support, where they are so strong, against an inferior opposition on a run of four defeats in five, including a poor home reverse to Preston last time out.
Yokuslu’s absence in midfield may be felt and others shall have to step up. Nathaniel Chalobah could have the nod. Albion are working on finalising Yann M’Vila’s free transfer to bolster the midfield.
Corberan took a lot of solace from his side’s fighting spirit despite succumbing to a late equaliser at Portman Road on Saturday. He said: “They put a lot of energy and commitment and sacrifice to take the point. They felt upset because they felt close to winning three points.
“But I think if they hadn’t put such a fighting, combative mentality then we would not have even achieved one point.”
The head coach added: “We never want to lose any players, especially in one demanding period, but we need to adapt and find solutions from the difficulty, like we always do.
“Without any type of doubt we need to recover well, prepare well (for Cardiff), at the front in attack we have possibilities, that’s why for example knowing the Dike risk we bring (Callum) Marshall in as one option at the front.
“Hopefully (Grady) Diangana comes back fit and ready and Semi the same because right now we need everyone ready to compete.”