West Brom resume their push for promotion to the Premier League with a home clash against Midlands rivals Birmingham at The Hawthorns this afternoon.
The Baggies begin the day with a six-point lead over third-placed Fulham, although the Cottagers will have the chance to halve that deficit if they can beat Brentford in the lunchtime game before the Midlands duo face off at 3pm. However, Albion will be overnight leaders of the Championship if they can avoid defeat, sitting just one point behind Leeds and with a better goal difference than Marcelo Bielsa’s team.
While Slaven Bilic has had a period of relative stability at West Brom, their opponents Birmingham have been rocked by the recent announcement from Pep Clotet that he will finish in his role as their manager at the end of the season. There was drama in the reverse fixture six months ago when two late goals from Charlie Austin turned the game on its head and gave the Baggies a 3-2 win at St Andrew’s.
The good news for Bilic ahead of today’s fixture is that he has just two absentees from his squad, with long-term injury victims Nathan Ferguson and Jonathan Leko remaining sidelined. Indeed, the manager welcomes back two valuable players from injury for this game, both of whom go straight into the starting line-up predicted by Football Transfer Tavern, which shows two changes from the line-up which began their previous fixture against Swansea.
The ever-present Sam Johnstone can be considered a sure-fire starter in goals, while full-backs Conor Townsend and Dara O’Shea keep their places, the latter continuing in place of the injured Ferguson. Semi Ajayi looks near-certain for one of the centre-back slots although there could be a change alongside him, with Ahmed Hegazi now fully fit after a hamstring injury prior to the season being stopped. The Egyptian’s return could see Kyle Bartley drop out of the team from the Swansea game.
Bilic has been faithful to his preferred 4-2-3-1 in almost every game this season and the defensive midfield duo of Jake Livermore and Romaine Sawyers should continue their well-established partnership. The other team selection that seems easy to predict is the presence of top scorer Hal Robson-Kanu in the lone striker role, with Austin likely to begin on the bench just as he did in the reverse fixture in December.
The composition of the three players behind Robson-Kanu presents the manager with a pleasant headache, with Bilic himself even remarking that he has “one or two too many” players from which to choose. Callum Robinson has been a fixture on the left flank since he joined on loan from Sheffield United and looks set to reprise that role once more this afternoon.
Matheus Pereira also keeps his place, although he could be moved into a central role to allow for the fit-again Grady Diangana to come back into the team on the right, with West Ham sanctioning an extension to his loan until the end of the season. The unlucky man who could miss out is Filip Krovinovic, who began in the number 10 position at the Liberty Stadium.
With Kyle Edwards, Matt Phillips and Kamil Grosicki also facing the distinct possibility of being substitutes, Bilic indeed has a fine array of players from which to pick today’s starting XI.
West Brom fans, do you think this will be the starting line-up selected by Bilic or do you envisage other changes? Give us your views in the comments section below!
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