Saturday evening sees Albion play their tenth league fixture of the campaign still looking for their first victory and, against the only team that is below them in the table, it represents a fantastic opportunity for them to double their points tally. It is, perhaps, as close to a must-win fixture for the Baggies that you can get this early in the season.
The surprise package of last season’s promoted teams have started this campaign with eight defeats from their opening nine games and are the division’s lowest goalscorers having found the net just four times. However, Chris Wilder welcomes back Lys Mousset to the squad for the first time this season with the Frenchman having recovered from a foot injury. He was the Blades’ joint top scorer in the league last season with six goals and Wilder will be hoping he will be answer to their scoring woes this campaign.
It is at the other end of the pitch that may be more of a concern for the United boss – having conceded just 39 goals last season, they have shipped 15 already this season with an injury to key defender Jack O’Connell one of the principal reasons. The balance of the side has been disrupted as Wilder has tried a number of different options with limited success – the Blades’ system of overlapping wing backs is inevitably not an easy one to learn quickly and further injuries to Ethan Ampadu, son of former Baggie Kwame, and Enda Stevens has made life even more difficult for the United boss.
It’s the worst run and biggest challenge of Chris Wilder’s managerial career, and Slaven Bilić will be plotting for it to last at least one game further as the Baggies look for that elusive first win.
Positive performances in their last two games could easily have earned four points for the Baggies, but none were forthcoming. Unfortunately, performances count for nothing and unless Albion start getting results, Bilić’s time at the Hawthorns helm could be limited. This match is huge for the Croat, and he has to hope that his players don’t repeat the display that they produced in their last basement battle against Fulham.
After his options had been limited by positive COVID tests for the last two games, Bilić reported that all players tested negative at the beginning of this week and he has a near full squad available to him. That presents some tricky selection options as a number of players have stepped in and done themselves no harm in recent weeks.
Jake Livermore is likely to return to the base of midfield although Romaine Sawyers did perform well at Old Trafford last weekend, while Callum Robinson will be pushing for a start having impressed from the bench against both Spurs and Manchester United. With Albion having scored just one goal in their last six games, a change in the forward line must be on the cards – whether that will mean Karlan Grant, the man who scored that goal, dropping to the bench or a change to the supporting cast remains to be seen, but the former Preston man must surely be knocking on the door.
It’s hard to fault the back five after their performance at Old Trafford and I would be surprised to see any unforced changes. It is further upfield that Albion need to improve.
Having picked up just two points from three winnable fixtures in October, Albion cannot afford to miss out on the opportunities that the next three present – that must surely start on Saturday. The time to win has come.
To read about the history and statistics of this fixture, click here.