When the fixture list was released, October always looked to be a key month for Albion as they faced four clubs that were, perhaps, expected to be fighting with the Baggies in the bottom half of the Premier League. With the first of those matches ending in defeat at Southampton, Slaven Bilić and his side welcome Burnley to the Hawthorns on Monday evening.
Ralph Hasenhüttl’s side were always going to be the toughest October fixture given the way they had finished last season, but Burnley do look to be one of the teams that will be battling it out at the bottom end of the table. Sean Dyche’s side are yet to pick up a point this season having lost to Leicester City, Southampton and Newcastle United in their three fixtures so far (they were due to play Manchester United on the opening day, but this was postponed due to United’s involvement in the latter stages of the Europa League) and sit on bottom of the Premier League.
Jay Rodriguez could be in line to play against Albion for the first time since he left the Hawthorns last year. He missed the trip to Newcastle with an ankle injury but is fit again and may well start in place of Ashley Barnes alongside another former Baggie, Chris Wood. However, Ben Mee, Matt Lowton and Jack Cork are all set to miss the game through injury.
For Bilić, the main doubt is whether Callum Robinson will be allowed to play. Albion’s top scorer was in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 while on international duty with the Republic of Ireland. However, the news that his Irish teammate, John Egan, was cleared to play for Sheffield United on Sunday suggests it is likely that Robinson will be available.
If not, with Hal Robson-Kanu out for several weeks having suffered a broken arm at St Mary’s, that could lead to a debut for new signing Karlan Grant. The former Terrier has not played any football this season having been expected to move away, so it is not clear how fit he will be to lead the line from the off. With Kenneth Zohore having moved to Millwall on loan, Charlie Austin is the only other striking option available.
That is not the only question mark in the line up for Monday as Bilić will have his other new signings available and, hopefully, fit and raring to go. We haven’t seen either Conor Gallagher or Branislav Ivanović in the Premier League yet, while Filip Krovinović will have had a couple of weeks further training to get himself up to speed. This match will, perhaps, be the first indication as to what formation Bilić wants to play now he has all his midfield options available.
If it was down to me, I think I would go for a 4-3-3 with Livermore sitting as the deepest of the three, Gallagher playing box-to-box and Krovinović as a number 10. Gallagher is a bit of an unknown quantity from my point of view, but based on what little of him I have seen and reports of his performances in the Championship last season, I think he will have the legs and ability to provide support to both of his midfield teammates. That would leave us with a front three of Diangana, Pereira and whoever leads the line.
At the back, Gibbs will be available again following his suspension and Bilić will then need to decide whether Ivanović is ready for action. If he is, the only man that could partner him is Semi Ajayi as the Serb will need someone with pace alongside him. Right back is likely to be Dara O’Shea, fresh from winning his first senior international cap, unless Bilić opts for a back three. Part of me thinks he might, with Ivanović in a central sweeping role, meaning that Furlong is more likely to play as a wing back and, I would suspect, Bartley and Ajayi either side of the Serb.
Obviously, that would only leave space for two in midfield. Given the importance that Bilić gave to the capture of Krovinović, I’d be surprised if he didn’t start and the question then becomes who the head coach trusts most alongside him. The relative performances in training over the international break will evidently have an impact – none of the central midfielders were away on international duty so Bilić will have had plenty of time to make a judgment.
It’s very early in the season, but this is a huge game for both sides. Albion are looking for their first win and Burnley are looking for their first point – Sunday’s result between the other two of the bottom four means that the Baggies need a point to move back out of the relegation zone, but a win would be a massive fillip for Bilić and the team. Another 4-0 would go down very nicely!
Burnley are one of the few clubs over which Albion have the upper hand in the Premier League years. In fact, the Clarets’ only Premier League victory over Albion came on the last occasion that the teams met with Sean Dyche’s team winning 2-1 at the Hawthorns in March 2018, the last in a run of nine successive defeats for the Baggies that culminated in Alan Pardew’s dismissal.
Burnley’s previous two visits to the Hawthorns both resulted in 4-0 victories for the hosts, the second of which prompted the visitors’ gravel-mouthed manager to exclaim that his side had been “drunk on possession” after they recorded more than 50% of the ball for the first time that season. Pulis’s Albion had a similarly poor possession record!
The previous occasion, in September 2014, was Alan Irvine’s biggest win as Albion boss, not that there were too many to choose from. A double from Saido Berahino was sandwiched by goals from Craig Dawson and Graham Dorrans.
While both those results were impressive, they aren’t a patch on the Baggies record win over Burnley achieved at the Hawthorns in November 1967. That day, the hosts were 5-0 up by half time thanks to goals by Bobby Hope, Clive Clark, Tony Brown, John Kaye and Eddie Colquhoun. Hope and Clark added their second goals after the break before Jeff Astle finally got on the scoresheet with 15 minutes left. Arthur Bellamy grabbed a late consolation for the visitors to make the final score 8-1.
Like Albion, Burnley were, of course, on of the twelve Founder Members of the Football League and the clubs first met in that first league season at Stoney Lane in September 1888 with the hosts winning 4-3. Burnley won the return fixture at Turf Moor 2-0, but they would not register a victory in West Bromwich until 1894.
The two clubs shared a division for the vast majority of the first 90 years of league football until the early seventies when Albion were relegated before they swapped divisions with the Baggies’ promotion of 1976. Burnley then fell all the way to Division Four before the clubs met for the first time in more than two decades after Burnley were promoted to the third tier in 1992.
The September 2014 encounter was the first between the clubs in the top tier since 1971.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
31 Mar 2018 – Premier League
West Brom 1 (Rondón)
Burnley 2 (Barnes, Wood)
19 Aug 2017 – Premier League
West Brom 1 (Robson-Kanu)
Last win at the Hawthorns
21 Nov 2016 – Premier League
West Brom 4 (Phillips, Morrison, Fletcher, Rondón)
Albion’s Record against Burnley
|Premier League Record|