Crunch time for Baggies starts at Burnley

Albion travel to Turf Moor this weekend to take on Burnley for the first of a run of four “winnable” fixtures that represent the last slim hope of survival. The Baggies need a significant points haul from these games, no fewer than eight in my opinion, and even taking twelve won’t to be enough to move them out of the bottom three.

Having said that, if Sam Allardyce’s team was to win the next four, the confidence generated would certainly give it a decent chance of getting out of trouble. Clubs that do pull off escapes normally get momentum while those above hit a sticky patch, and that is the only hope for Albion.

In 2005, the Baggies escaped without really generating a massive amount of momentum – only once were they victorious in successive games and they managed to win only one of their last seven matches – but that year there were four sides very close together and Albion were lucky enough to be the one out of the bottom three when the season ended.

Other “great escapes” like Leicester City in 2015 (won 7 of last 9), West Ham United (won 7 of last 9) and Sunderland under Big Sam in 2016 (lost 1 of last 11) needed a significant change in momentum to turn things around, and that is what the Baggies need now.

This weekend’s opponents are one of the clubs that Albion will hope to catch, although they are currently fourteen points better off than the Baggies and they are in the top half of the current 8-match form table. However, if Albion are to pull off a miracle, current form for a few clubs will need to change, not least for the Baggies themselves who sit 19th in that particular table.

However, a good performance against Manchester United last Sunday has raised hopes a little, and if they can back that up with a win at Burnley, they will be raised a bit higher. Sean Dyche’s side will present a very different challenge to United, of course, with Mbaye Diagne unlikely to be able to bully the central defenders to the same extent as he did to Lindelof and Maguire. Albion did show plenty of fight and commitment against United, and they will definitely need to repeat that, if not improve it, against Burnley with the Clarets’ front line likely to present a much more physical test for the Baggies defence.

Former Baggie, Jay Rodriguez, is likely to be one of Dyche’s front two, although the gravel-mouthed Burnley boss has rotated his strikers with another former Albion player, Chris Wood, starting most matches either paired with J-Rod or Ashley Barnes. The trio of former Baggies’ strikers at Turf Moor is completed by Matej Vydra who has also notched up 20 appearances for the Clarets during the campaign, albeit the majority have been from the bench.

The midfield will be a key battle area with the pairing of Jack Cork and Ashley Westwood key to Burnley’s style of play. Cork has only recently returned to the side having been sidelined by injury for the first half of the campaign and his return has coincided with an upturn in results.

They are likely to be up against Conor Gallagher and Okay Yokuşlu’s. The Turk’s display against United was very encouraging with his mobility, tenacity in the tackle and passing ability all impressive and exactly what Albion have been missing the middle of the park this season. Hopefully, he can start playing the full 90 minutes before too long although Livermore did OK when he came on for the last half hour on Sunday.

I don’t expect too much to change from Allardyce’s last line up although Robert Snodgrass is apparently an injury doubt which could lead to a switch around, with Grady Diangana reportedly ready for action. I would still like to see Maitland-Niles at right back rather than in midfield, but Big Sam seems determined to continue to play him in midfield. It’s not that he can’t play, there just that I feel the team would benefit most from him at right back.

As it is, Peltier is also a doubt having been withdrawn at half time last weekend, so Furlong may well start again. The former QPR man did well in the second half against United – he has always looked better going forward than in defence but I do think he is a better overall option than Peltier.

Whatever team Big Sam goes with, the Baggies are now in the Last Chance Saloon and they need to produce a performance and come away with something.

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