After recording their first league victory of the campaign last weekend, Albion look to make it back-to-back wins as they welcome former manager, Roy Hodgson, and his Crystal Palace team to the Hawthorns on Sunday lunchtime.
Hodgson is in his fourth season at Selhurst Park after taking over following Frank de Boer’s brief tenure at the start of the 2017/18 season. He has produced consistent mid-table finishes to extend Palace’s longest spell in the top flight – this is their eighth consecutive season in the highest tier with their previous best being four in the early seventies.
The Eagles are looking to make it a hat-trick of wins against the promoted sides having already beaten Fulham 2-1 at Craven Cottage, and dispatched Leeds United 4-1 at Selhurst Park. That win, in early November, was followed by defeats to Burnley and Newcastle United to leave Palace in 15th place albeit three points clear of 16th-placed Brighton. Nevertheless, those defeats will leave Hodgson a little uncomfortable and another defeat at the Hawthorns would exacerbate the feelings of anxiety.
The Baggies dropped back into the bottom three on Monday evening following Fulham’s surprise win at Leicester City, but the win on Saturday will have boosted confidence and Palace are certainly amongst that group of teams that Albion should be looking to beat at home if they are to survive. With the Cottagers away to Manchester City on Saturday afternoon, it is likely that a win would move Albion back above the safety line and within four points of their opponents.
Roy Hodgson could be without his talismanic forward, Wilfred Zaha, who tested positive for COVID-19 – he should be available to play should he prove to be free of the virus in his next test due on Friday while Luka Milivojević should also be available after a positive test last wek. Conor Wickham and Wayne Hennessey are long-term absentees while Nathan Ferguson is also still unavailable having yet to make his debut for the club he joined in the summer. The former Baggie had a set back in his recovery and is still some way away, while Albion are still waiting for the tribunal that will decide how much their January kitty will be boosted, assuming, of course, it takes place before then.
As for Bilić, Conor Townsend is the biggest doubt having limped off in the final stages of the win over the Blades. It was reportedly an impact injury rather than a twist, so there is a chance that he may be fit for Sunday but, if not, Kieran Gibbs should be on hand to step in – the former England international has not seen any Premier League action since his red card at Goodison Park in the second game of the season and, such has been the quality of Townsend’s displays, a return was not expected before the injury.
Jake Livermore should also be available and Bilić must decide whether to bring his skipper back into the starting line up. If he does, that must mean that Sawyers would drop to the bench, in my opinion. Romaine has done well in recent games, although I still feel he can lose concentration when out of possession, but I don’t think he and Livermore should be two of a midfield three. Gallagher must start, and Pereira looks to be at his best at the point of the midfield triangle.
Another decision to make could be up front where Karlan Grant has struggled a little of late. His record of one goal in six games is hardly impressive, but given that the whole of the team has only scored one more goal in that period, it is difficult to be too harsh. To be fair to him, it’s not as if he’s been spawning chances – his personal xG for the season is just 0.95, so he’s pretty much on par with what is expected. Furthermore, the formation has chopped and changed and he has not had the chance to get used to playing with the same supporting cast. He’s been on his own, part of a three and part of a two – the latter may well become the regular setup but it remains to be seen if Robinson will be his regular partner. I feel that if Albion’s confidence continues to improve, the quality of chances he gets will improve and only then will we be able to judge him fairly. I’ve a feeling that Bilić will persist with his number one striker target over the summer for a little longer.
A defeat for Albion would be another body blow but another win and momentum could start to build. It would also keep another side in touch with the teams at the bottom of the table, and the more teams in touch, the better chance there is that the Baggies can keep ahead of three of them. Make no mistake, it’s another massive game for Albion.
For the history and statistics of this fixture, click here.