West Bromwich Albion v Sheffield United; The Hawthorns, Saturday 29th October 2022, 12.30pm
Carlos Corberán leads his new Baggies into his first game on Saturday lunchtime having had just three days’ training with his new charges. In recent years, few head coach or managerial appointments have been so widely welcomed across the Albion fan base and I’m not sure that Slaven Bilić was as initially popular, but supporters are a fickle bunch and will be expecting a quick turnaround, at least in terms of application.
The Spaniard’s appointment included a statement that James Morrison and goalkeeping coach, Gary Walsh, would be staying on as part of the first team coaching setup, while Wednesday saw confirmation that his regular assistant, compatriot Jorge Alarcón, and Portuguese coach, Jaime Monroy, who he worked with at Leeds United and Olympiacos, would also be joining his team.
The new boss is reportedly obsessed with football and is very demanding of his players, something that could come as a shock to some of the current Albion squad. Too many of them have been allowed to coast in recent years and, from that point of view, Corberán is exactly the sort of head coach that the club needs. Furthermore, players who have worked with him before are full of praise for his tactical understanding of the game along with his ability to improve players. He has been a full time coach for 16 years and, as well as working with Marcelo Bielsa, he has studied the work of Juanma Lillo who was Pep Guardiola’s head coach when he played in Mexico, and his assistant at Manchester City until recently, and worked with Lillo’s former assistant, Raúl Caneda, in Saudi Arabia. It all points to a well-versed, well-rounded coach with great contacts in the game and a growing track record of success.
He also spoke very well in his first interview with the club website on Wednesday – rather than the usual platitudes we have come to expect from such introductions, it was a brief explanation of his philosophy espousing a need to combine tactical organisation and intensity in order to achieve success. He also showed understanding of how he needs to bring the fans along with him on the journey and that they can make the Hawthorns a very difficult place to play. He further impressed in his press conference on Thursday and evidently feels confident that he can turn things around.
Everything I have read about Corberán over the past few days, from journalists, players and other coaches, suggests that Albion could well have appointed a real diamond but it is only results on the pitch that matter, and that starts on Saturday with the visit of Paul Heckingbottom’s Sheffield United.
The Blades have had a very good start to the season but have dropped down to fifth place after a recent downturn in results. In fact, based on the standard six-game form table, Albion are ahead of United with four points to their three and only Wigan Athletic and Norwich City are below them in that table. That run of six games without a win comes after a run of six wins in seven matches that saw the Blades hit top spot having lost two of their first three games in all competitions, including a 1-0 defeat in the EFL Cup at the Hawthorns.
Part of United’s dip in form can be attributed to a defensive injury crisis which sees Ciaran Clark, Max Lowe, Enda Stevens, Jayden Bogle, Jack O’Connell and Ryan Norrington-Davies in the treatment room recently, with the latter expected to miss out on a spot in the Welsh World Cup squad. Forward Daniel Jebbison and midfielder Sander Berge are also ruled out through injury while first choice goalkeeper, Wes Foderingham, will this weekend serve the last of a three-game suspension for a red card he received in the explosive 3-3 draw at home to Blackpool earlier this month.
As for the hosts, we can only speculate as to what Corberán’s first starting line up will be – there may be a few surprises in there and I, for one, won’t be offering any judgment until the game is well under way. As fans, we will need to be patient and the four games between now and the break for the World Cup might not see the immediate turnaround we are hoping for, but that should not be a reason for panic.
The subsequent break will give the new boss a mini pre-season with the opportunity to work with his players. It seems unlikely that any of the squad will be called up to represent their country – Tom Rogić an outside selection possibility although his form and fitness would make that a surprise while the only other possibility is Daryl Dike, and that, again, would seem highly unlikely.
If we can see some improvement before then, that would be fantastic, and three points on Saturday would obviously be a wonderful way to start.
On Saturday lunchtime, Albion and Sheffield United will play one another for the 121st time having first met in Football League Division One in 1893 – the Blades had joined the newly formed Division Two the previous season and were promoted at the first time of asking by defeating Accrington in a Test Match.
The Baggies did the double in that first season including a 3-1 victory at Stoney Lane on Boxing Day 1893 but the Blades soon became tricky opponents, particularly at Bramall Lane. United won on Albion soil for the first time at Stoney Lane in November 1896 with Fred Priest scoring the only goal of the game and also won on their very first visit to the Hawthorns in April 1901 in what was Albion’s final match in Division One before being relegated for the first time. “Oakey” Field and Billy Barnes scored for the visitors in a 2-0 victory in front of just 1,050 fans which remains the lowest ever attendance at the Hawthorns for a senior competitive match (other than during COVID, of course).
Thirty-four years later, top flight Baggies welcomed second tier Blades to the Hawthorns for a Fourth Round FA Cup tie in January 1935. United had been relegated the previous season and were on course for a disappointing mid-table finish while Albion were on their way to another FA Cup final where they would be beaten by the other team from the Steel City, Sheffield Wednesday. On that late January afternoon in West Bromwich, the Baggies were irresistible recording their biggest ever win over the Blades. A hat trick from the legendary Ginger Richardson, a brace from Teddy Sandford and further goals from Joe Carter and Arthur Gale saw them win 7-1 with the visitors’ consolation scored by Jack Pickering.
United’s biggest win at Albion came in the opening day of the 1989/90 season. The Baggies had missed out on the play-offs the previous season having been top of Division Two on New Year’s Day while Dave Bassett was making his name in management having won automatic promotion from Division Three that summer. The hosts would have been clear favourites, but Bassett’s Blades blew the Baggies away winning 3-0 thanks to a brace from Tony Agana and another from Brian Deane who would be remembered for scoring the first ever goal in the Premier League three years later. Come the end of the season, United were promoted while Albion just escaped relegation finishing in a lowly 20th place.
This fixture has been difficult to predict in recent seasons with the last eight meetings at the Hawthorns producing four home wins, three away wins and one draw, although Albion have won the last three including last season’s 4-0 drubbing that all had us believing that Val-ball was brilliant, and the 1-0 win in the League Cup in August.
Albion have actually scored four or more goals at home to Sheffield United on no less than seven occasions – as well as the 7-1 victory I referred to above, there have also been three four-nil wins and three by four goals to one.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
11 Aug 2022 – League Cup 1st Round
West Brom 1 (Grant)
Sheffield United 0
Albion’s Record against Sheffield United
If you cannot see the tables, click here.