In the midst of the furore surrounding the announcement of the proposed European Super League, Albion have been preparing to face the club that produced the most recent example of why true competition is worth maintaining.
Leicester City’s remarkable Premier League victory in 2016 coming a season after their own great escape from relegation is one of the most endearing football stories of recent years, and one that no doubt caused the owners behind the proposals some sleepless nights – how dare a club like Leicester crash their party??
For clubs like Albion, it proved that the dreams are still alive given the right circumstances and, perhaps most crucially, the right owners. How much input the current owners had in the club statement confirming opposition to the proposals is unclear, but it was good to see nonetheless. However, the prospect of Albion coming close to mirroring the Foxes’ success without a change in ownership are very remote.
The chances of the Baggies retaining their Premier League status for next season are not as remote, but they remain unlikely despite recent results. Back-to-back wins have certainly raised hopes, but survival is as dependent on other clubs failing to get points as much as the ability of Allardyce’s team to continue their good form, and some of those clubs have not being playing ball.
Newcastle United, the most likely club to get drawn in a couple of weeks ago, have now recorded back-to-back wins thanks largely to the return to fitness of Allan Saint-Maximin to move themselves onto 35 points, some eleven above Albion, while Fulham were unfortunate not to beat Arsenal at the Emirates but nonetheless picked up a point after four successive defeats had brought a halt to their survival bid.
With the Magpies pulling further away, attention turns to Burnley and Brighton and, while the Clarets are on a run of three straight defeats, Graham Potter’s team earned a valuable point at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday evening to put them on 34 points. The Baggies need one of those clubs to lose most of their remaining games to have a chance of getting out of trouble.
While the results for other clubs are obviously important, Albion obviously need to maintain the levels they have achieved in their previous two games. If they can, there is no reason why they cannot make it three wins on the bounce at Leicester City at a stadium that they are yet to taste defeat.
The Foxes have had a great season and are well in the picture for Champions League qualification. However, they have lost their last two Premier League games and the players may have an FA Cup final on their minds after they beat Southampton last weekend. Brendan Rodgers will want to avoid a similar collapse to last season when they lost three of their last four games to drop out of the top four having been Liverpool’s closest challengers for much of the season.
Rodgers will be without long term absentees Harvey Barnes and James Justin while Allardyce’s only absentee is Branislav Ivanović who is likely to have played his last game for Albion.
With ten days to rest and prepare, I expect Big Sam to go with the same team that started against Southampton. The Baggies need wins so I don’t think there is any advantage to seeking to contain Leicester – the same high press high energy approach is the only way to get three points and the same personnel are best placed to put that into action.