The Story So Far
West Brom currently sit in 10th place in the Premier League with a record of two wins, two defeats, and two draws. Before their 4-2 victory over West Ham two weeks ago, the Baggies had won only one of their last 13 league games. Having ended 2015-16 without a win in their last nine league games, West Brom opened the season with a 1-0 away victory at Crystal Palace, with Salomon Rondon's header proving enough to earn all three points at Pulis' former club.
Gareth McAuley put the Baggies in front at home against Everton in the following game, but goals from Kevin Mirallas and Gareth Barry left Pulis empty handed. A dour 0-0 draw against Middlesbrough was followed by a disappointing away defeat at Bournemouth, before the 4-2 win over West Ham and last weekend's late draw at Stoke lifted the early season pressure on the manager.
The Manager - Tony Pulis
Pulis headed into the season visibly frustrated at the board's failure to adequately support him in the transfer window. He also headed into the season feeling the frustration of the supporters who had began to grow tired of his style of play and winless run. But you know what you'll get with Tony Pulis. He has made a career of taking over struggling teams and transforming them into solid, if unspectacular outfits. With new Chinese owners having recently taken over at The Hawthorns, Pulis will need a strong season to convince the new bosses that he is the man to take the Baggies to the next level.
Key Player - Nacer Chadli
While Rondon will pose a physical challenge to the Sunderland defence, Nacer Chadli is the man whom Pulis will look to to supply the Venezuelan and provide a creative spark for the traveling Baggies. The club record signing was instrumental in the victory over West Ham, scoring two goals and providing two assists, and will surely fancy his chances against a vulnerable Black Cats backline.
The Belgian is capable of playing on both flanks and through the middle, but with Pulis likely to look to remain solid away from home, Chadli may drop back into a midfield three, albeit with a license to attack and support Rondon. The midfield anchor for Sunderland, whether that be Jan Kirchhoff or Lee Cattermole, will need to watch Chadli's runs from deep closely.
We all know what to expect from a Tony Pulis team. With only 40.8% possession per game (the second lowest average in the Premier League), West Brom are happy to concede the ball and look to hit on the counter attack, favouring a more direct approach. With four of their seven Premier League goals this season coming from set-piece situations (the joint highest total), West Brom look to hit the ball long and use the strength of Rondon to earn corner kicks and free kicks. Albion average 73 long balls per game, while their average of 218 short passes per game is the lowest in the league, suggesting that they like to get the ball forward as quickly as possible.
West Brom are well regimented at the back. Only Arsenal (27) and Manchester United (25) have kept more Premier League clean sheets than West Brom (23) since Pulis was appointed in January 2015. His side have also become specialists at setting up away from home, with their eight away draws last season more than any other team in the Premier League.
West Brom's strengths could also prove to be their weakness in some cases. Their workmanlike and rigid approach to matches has been largely successful for Pulis' side, but it leaves little variety in the team. Rondon and Chadli are skillful players, but beyond Saido Berahino (who may not be fit to make the squad), there is little in terms of flair and technique in the West Brom squad. James McClean and Matt Phillips possess decent pace down the wing but lack the trickery and imagination to pose a dynamic threat. Pulis will struggle to find a plan B should their game-plan fail to work.
One area in which Sunderland can find success against West Brom is through the pace of Jermain Defoe, Duncan Watmore and Patrick van Aanholt. While regimented and defensively strong, Albion's defence lacks pace and could be susceptible to balls and movement in behind. In front of them, Darren Fletcher and Claudio Yacob also lack pace, and the midfield energy of Cattermole and Didier Ndong could potentially exploit that.
Pulis is likely to stick to the 4141 formation and line-up that he employed last time out against Stoke, although Brendan Galloway could return from illness in time to replace Allan Nyom at left back. Rondon provides a physical focal point for the attack, and Chadli will be expected to get forward to support the lone striker. Fletcher and Yacob will likely sit deep and look to break up the play before getting the ball to McClean and Phillips in wide areas.
The visitors look certain to sit deep and absorb any pressure from The Lads with two banks of four. The onus will be on Sunderland to attack and to actively seek attacking chances.
Sunderland traveled to The Hawthorns last October in what was Sam Allardyce's first game in charge of the club. It was not a happy debut for Big Sam, who saw his side lose to a second half Berahino strike. In the return fixture, Sunderland missed two late chances as the sides played out a goalless draw at the Stadium of Light. A flutter on a draw or under 1.5 goals may be a wise choice for punters this weekend.
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