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Scout Report: West Brom - Typical Tony & phenomenal Phillips have the Baggies bouncing

Trips to The Hawthorns are never easy, and this is certainly no exception. The Baggies will be looking to get back on track following last weekend's 4-0 defeat at Spurs - will Sunderland be helpless victims or can Moyes' men spring a surprise?

West Bromwich Albion v Hull City - Premier League Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

What Has Happened Since The Last Time They Met? (1-1, 1/10/2016)

Since then, West Brom have picked up a very handy 20 points from 14 games. They've scored 20 goals and conceded 21 in that time, a fact that may irritate Tony Pulis - who prides himself on his team's defensive solidity - but he can't have too many complaints about sitting in 8th place after 21 games.

For comparison, the Baggies found themselves in 13th place this time last season on 27 points. They've conceded one more goal this season, but they've also scored six more, and while they're only two points better off, their 'plus 5' position demonstrates how West Brom have taken advantage of the inconsistencies of their mid-table rivals.

And while they've lost six league games since the last meeting, all six have in fact been to the division's 'top six' clubs, so it's not too much of a surprise. The important thing is that West Brom have improved their form against those around them, and they'll see Sunderland as the perfect opponent to add another 'W' to the column.


Tactics

As you'd expect from a Tony Pulis side, defensive solidity is the first item on the agenda. Lining up in a 4-2-3-1, that becomes a 4-5-1 when defending, West Brom employ what is sometimes referred to as a 'deep block.' The idea is that defensive players sit deep in formation to restrict the space through the middle of the pitch. We often read of 'two banks of four', and West Brom really showcase that. The full backs tend to tuck in to create a space-restricting defensive line, while the wingers drop back to act as auxiliary full backs, forming a six-man defence. The deep-lying midfield pair then act as a defensive shield ahead of the defenders, creating 'two banks of four.'

Tottenham Hotspur v West Bromwich Albion - Premier League Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

It can be very difficult to break down as runaway leaders Chelsea found out, eventually relying on a defensive error to score the winner. They're an extremely well drilled team, and there's something to admire about their effectiveness and solidity, even if the typical reaction from opposition fans is to be pissed off by Pulis' style.

Not much has changed in terms of how West Brom attack either. They remain a very direct side happy to concede the ball and look to counter attack - they attempt the least number of passes in the league (309.3 per game) and average a league-low 40.3% possession. But it's clearly effective.

But up front, they're now more creative and show more flair through Salomon Rondon, Nacer Chadli and Matt Phillips. They're pacey, good technically and confident with the ball at their feet. And they need to be - they're not going to see too much support from the likes of Darren Fletcher and Claudio Yacob. Rondon is the perfect target man for Pulis - a combination of brute strength and pace who wins 2.6 aerials per game. West Brom look to him to keep hold of the ball and bring his attacking teammates into play, and he does a pretty decent job of it.

West Brom's attacking trio have scored 15 goals and made 12 assists between them - they're clearly finding success in Pulis' system and represent a real threat to Sunderland on Saturday.


Strengths

Set-pieces, as you'd expect. No team has scored more goals from set-pieces (12, or 13 including a penalty) than West Brom this season. The Baggies aren't lacking in height - 12 outfield players stand at 6ft or more, with Jonny Evans, Craig Dawson, Brendon Galloway, Allan Nyom, Rondon, Gareth McAuley and Jonas Olsson (ie those who would typically attack set-pieces) all standing at 6ft 2 or more. The likes of Chadli, Fletcher and Brunt can all deliver a fine set-piece, so it's really no surprise that West Brom excel in this area. It's from corners in particular that the majority of their set-piece goals are scored. Their total of nine is three more than any other side.

West Bromwich Albion v Hull City - Premier League Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

On a similar note, only Arsenal have scored more headed goals than the Baggies (11). On the flipside, only Stoke have conceded more headed goals than Sunderland (11). It seems pretty obvious what's going to happen, then...

The Baggies are also displaying a superb shot conversion rate. 64 shots on target represents the league's third worst total (and just three per game on average), yet they've managed to score 28 goals at a rate of one every 2.3 shots on target. Whether it's sustainable or not is another matter entirely, but for now it's working for West Brom.


Weaknesses

Despite their defensive solidity and compactness, West Brom still give up a top-10 ranking 13.9 shots per game. Ben Foster has been forced into making 74 saves as a result, more than anyone bar Sunderland, Hull and Burnley.

And while they are showing a great knack of converting their chances, they're banking on keeping this remarkable statistic up. 9.8 shots per game and three on target is the league's third worst - they're not giving themselves a great chance of scoring, but are somehow making it work for the time being.


Key Player - Matt Phillips

Matt Phillips has history in terms of giving Sunderland fans nightmares - it was from his cross that DJ Campbell wrapped up the three points for Blackpool in a match that is still confusing to this day. Fast forward six years and the Scottish international will be looking to do the same again on Saturday.

West Bromwich Albion v Derby County - The Emirates FA Cup Third Round Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

And recent form suggests that that might just happen. Phillips has registered three goals and five assists in his last ten games (in all competitions), and has four and eight respectively in the league this season, making him the Baggies' most prolific goal contributor.

Donald Love struggled against Marko Arnautovic last weekend, and Billy Jones and Javi Manquillo aren't any better. Whoever plays at right back is likely to have a tough game on their hands.


Match Facts

  • West Brom have more Premier League wins against Sunderland than any other side. Since their return to the top flight in 2010, the Baggies have taken 26 points from a possible 38 in games against the Black Cats;
  • West Brom have won six of their last seven home games against Sunderland in all competitions;
  • West Brom have kept a clean sheet in five of their last seven home games against Sunderland in all competitions;
  • Sunderland have lost seven of their last eight away games;
  • Sunderland have conceded at least three goals in their last three away games;
  • But, there have been under 2.5 goals in the last four games between the two in all competitions

Likely Line-Up

West Brom - Football tactics and formations