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West Brom vs. Chelsea, Premier League: Opposition Analysis

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After an international break, there’s no easier fixture than West Bromwich Albion (ed.note: though that’s what was said about Crystal Palace, too...)

West Bromwich Albion v Stoke City - Premier League Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

The Season So Far

You know exactly what you’re getting with (*writer pauses, vomit rising in his gullet*) Tony Pulis. The football will be beyond abysmal, the supporters will gradually forget that coming to the ground could possibly be fun, the players will get bored of training and eventually stop trying to do anything other than kick the ball as hard and as far as they can down the pitch, but the shameless uberdefensiveness and military rigidity of Shitball Pulisball will somehow ensure that relegation never becomes a realistic possibility.

Yo-yo clubs and those established ones which mess up one transfer window and suddenly find themselves sliding down the table unhesitatingly turn to the Devil Pulis to steer them away from the drop zone, ensure mid-table security over a period of years on a relatively small wage-bill, and allow them to return to dreaming a little once the club is stable enough to recruit a proper manager.

While West Bromwich Albion fans are suffering a variety of existential crises as The Emperor of Misery Pulis closes in on three years in charge, there is an upside. Three years is long enough for a team to have benefited enough from Pulisball to have re-established itself and started dreaming of playing actual football again, and it does seem that West Brom are close to sending Pulis packing.

A miserable start to the season has left the Baggies sixteenth in the Premier League, one point above the drop zone and without a win since August. Their last clean sheet was in September and they’ve lost to Huddersfield Town, Southampton and Brighton and Hove Albion, sides who they need to be beating for the principles of Pulisball to hold. The fans are close to mutiny as results can’t possibly justify the quality of “football” on show. Pulis is currently joint-favourite to be the next manager to leave his job, and no-one at the Hawthorns would be sad to see him go.

The Season Ahead

Pulis’ future must be resolved sooner rather than later and results will decide whether he stays or whether he goes. He obviously won’t win this game and West Brom have Tottenham away next weekend and that’s another big fat zero in the points column, so it seems like the home games against Newcastle United and Crystal Palace will decide everything. Win those and Pulis will get another transfer window to turn things around; lose and that same transfer window will be the first for the new manager to turn the squad into something resembling a football team.

In any case, West Brom’s primary focus will be on avoiding relegation. To do this they will have to stop shipping so many goals and start scoring more. This is unlikely to happen.

Tactics

As with all of Pulis’ armies of sadness teams, West Brom’s main focus is on keeping a good defensive shape and giving their opponents as little time and space near their goal as possible. The opposition’s space was previously minimised by keeping all four defenders back and making sure the defensive midfielders – usually two, sometimes three – sat deep and protect the back four. Of late, however, Pulis has been using three centre-backs and three defensive midfielders, effectively forming a two-line back six.

Their task is very simple: keep their shape, protect the box and the centre of the pitch, and punt the ball as far as possible whenever it arrives at their feet. Unsurprisingly, given how their build-up play “starts” at the back, their attacking can be charitably described as ‘rudimentary’. Sometimes, they don’t even bother attacking.

Last season, the Baggies’ successful attacking was famously done via set plays and no Premier League team scored more goals from corners. Chris Brunt’s delivery from dead balls was particularly dangerous. This season, however, that threat has been nullified, and the true horror of Pulisball has been fully visible to all lost souls unfortunate enough to find themselves in attendance spectators.

Strengths

Only Guardiolaball is as instantly recognisable a tactical philosophy as Pulisball.

Gareth Barry recently became the player with the highest number of appearances in the Premier League, which is obviously very nice for him and he should be very proud.

In loanee Grzegorz Krychowiak they have a top-class central midfielder who could do a decent job for almost any Premier League side.

That’s about it.

Weaknesses

Only Brighton, Huddersfield and Swansea have taken fewer shots than West Brom this season.

Only Everton, Bournemouth and Swansea have had fewer shots on target.

Only five teams have allowed more shots on their goal this season.

No team averages less possession or has a lower passing accuracy.

Only four teams have created fewer chances from set pieces.

Ten teams have scored more goals from set pieces.

Only Jay Rodriguez has scored more than one goal for West Brom this season.

They haven’t won a game since August.

They haven’t kept a clean sheet since September.

No other Premier League team has Tony Pulis as their manager.

Likely XIs

Neither line-up should have too many surprises.

Antonio Conte will be hoping to include Eden Hazard if possible, but the Blues’ talisman is carrying an injury and may not be risked against a side which isn’t even going to try and win.

Tony Pulis will presumably be up all night trying to find a formation which allows him to play more central defenders and more defensive midfielders.

Prediction

It may not be easy as Chelsea haven’t found it that easy to break down massed defences this season, but we know what Pulis’ intentions are here and we know Chelsea will win to nil. The only question is how many goals they will win by.