Albion’s run of four games against teams in the bottom half has been rudely interrupted with a Thursday evening fixture against a team chasing European qualification.
Sam Allardyce has voiced his displeasure that the rearrangement and how it will disadvantage them for the crucial game against Newcastle United on Sunday, given the Toon have a full week to prepare. The converse argument is that Everton will only have had three days’ rest to Albion’s five having played on Monday evening.
There is little point in complaining, though, with the demands of the broadcasters paramount along with UEFA’s instruction that Premier League fixtures should not be scheduled to clash with any of their competitions, conveniently ignored for Manchester City’s match with Southampton next Wednesday.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side are a bit of an enigma at the moment. They started the season particularly well winning their first seven games in all competitions, including a 5-2 victory over the Baggies, but their form since has been mixed. Impressive results, including their first win at Anfield this century and a 5-4 FA Cup win over Spurs, have been tempered with defeats to the likes of Newcastle United and Fulham, and Allardyce will feel that his team have a chance depending on which Everton turns up.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin has been key to the Toffees this season with 18 goals in all competitions, including a hat trick against Albion in Setpember, while James Rodriguez has been equally influential in the middle of the park and, along with Gylfi Sigurðsson, leads their assist total with eight. It was certainly a coup to sign the Colombian in the summer, and his partnership with his Icelandic teammate has been very productive.
Rodriguez sat out their narrow win over Southampton on Monday and is a doubt for the match at the Hawthorns, while defender Yerry Mina will almost certainly miss out.
For Albion, Semi Ajayi will be available again although he may not walk straight back into the side given Dara O’Shea’s impressive display against Brighton at the weekend. Robert Snodgrass remains a doubt and it is probably that wide midfield position that is most likely to change from the weekend. Matt Phillips was replaced by Grady Diangana in the second half and neither did enough to secure a starting spot. Karlan Grant and Callum Robinson remain other options at Allardyce’s disposal and, while I don’t expect wholesale changes as a result of the three games in eight days, it wouldn’t surprise me if one of those was given a start.
Big Sam would be crazy to change the spine of the side, however, with Okay, Gallagher and Maitland-Niles in the middle, Diagne up front and Bartley the rock at the back. AMN has started to show his value in the middle of the park, but I do think that Pereira is less effective in a wide position, and the the Arsenal youngster would do a great job at right back. However, I can’t see it being changed now given the improvement in performances in recent weeks.
Having said that Allardyce would be crazy to change too much, he has suggested that he may be forced to due to the schedule. Obviously, the coaching staff have all the data and there has been the suggestion that Burnley’s poor display against us was partly down to having played in midweek, but I don’t think Albion can afford to give up on the possibility of getting points against Everton to concentrate on the Newcastle game. Yes, Sunday’s match is more important and theoretically more winnable, but there aren’t enough games left to start fielding weakened sides.
Albion’s survival hopes remain slim and they really need at least a draw from this game against Everton. A win would be fantastic and, given the Toffee’s struggles with some of the Premier League’s lesser sides in recent weeks, it cannot be ruled out, particularly if Allardyce opts to field his strongest side.
I can see both sides of the argument, but if players are rested on Thursday and Albion fail to beat Newcastle, Allardyce will look very silly. Conversely, if they beat Everton, adrenaline may be enough to carry them through Sunday’s game. We await the starting line up with interest.