The anticipation of a new season is somewhat diminished without the ability to return to the Hawthorns for the opening game, but all Baggies fans will be eagerly awaiting the visit of Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester City on Sunday.
With the transfer window open for another month, the final make-up of Premier League squads could still be significantly different to those that open the season, but most pundits seem to be convinced that Albion will return to the Championship come the end of the season.
It is true that, at the time of writing, Slaven Bilić’s squad is still in need of strengthening although it is much stronger than it was a week ago. The signings of Cédric Kipré and David Button have added much-needed competition to the defensive and goalkeeping areas while the re-signings of Grady Diangana and Callum Robinson have delighted most Baggies fans as it looks like most of last season’s potent attacking options will be available for the opening day of the season.
Luke Dowling and team are still working hard to secure a deal that will see Filip Korivinović back at the Hawthorns while a new striker remains a key priority with Huddersfield Town’s Karlan Grant seemingly top of the list.
While Kipré is a low risk addition that could turn out to be as good as Semi Ajayi turned out to be last season, there is a distinct lack of Premier League experience in Albion’s back line and it is that deficiency that seems to be convincing the pundits that they will struggle this season.
Gibbs has the quality but a dreadful injury record while Hegazi and Bartley have limited experience with what could best be described as mixed results. As mitigation for the lack of Premier League experience, former Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanović is expected to complete a free transfer to the Hawthorns in the next few days. While his experience and quality is not in doubt, he doesn’t fit the target mould of young and hungry at 36. However, there is no doubt that a young squad will benefit from a smattering of experienced players, and Ivanović could be a good fit assuming his body is still willing – it bodes well that he played 35 games for Zenit last season, mostly as a starter. His ability to play anywhere across the back line makes him a very useful option, although I wonder whether he will still be mobile enough to play at full back.
There is very little to be learned from pre-season given its short length and the fact that it was disrupted by international football, and it is rarely an accurate predictor of early season form. There is no doubt that the return of Diangana and Robinson to the fold will have boosted morale amongst the Albion squad, and that should see the squad approach the opening game with some level of confidence.
As for Leicester City, they impressed for much of last season before fading in the post-lockdown period and finishing in fifth place. There is no doubt that they present a tough opponent for the Baggies’ first game back in the Premier League, but the hosts’ chances might be improved thanks to a number of injury concerns in Brendan Rodgers’ squad. Wes Morgan, James Maddison, Christan Fuchs and and Daniel Amartey face fitness tests while Filip Benković and Ricardo Pereira are definitely ruled out. Furthermore, former Baggie, Jonny Evans, is suspended having been sent off against Manchester United in the final game of last season.
Only one new signing has arrived at the King Power Stadium so far this summer, with full back Timothy Castagne arriving from Atalanta, ostensibly a replacement for their one high profile departure, Ben Chilwell. That lack of transfer activity coupled with the poor end to last season has reportedly led to a downbeat mood amongst the Foxes fans, but the quality of their squad and their recent record at the Hawthorns – Albion haven’t beaten Leicester at home since 2010 with the Foxes having won on every Premier League trip to West Bromwich – should give them plenty of optimism for this season opener.
Slaven Bilić’s starting line up for the game on Sunday is unlikely to be markedly different to the one that started the match against QPR in which Albion clinched promotion in July. Krovinović has not re-signed (yet) so we could see Matt Phillips start on the right with Pereira moving into the number 10 position, while it wouldn’t surprise me to see Callum Robinson through the middle once again, even though that QPR match was his first run out in that position for Albion.
Kieran Gibbs is likely to get the nod at left back assuming he is fit which will probably mean that Dara O’Shea will switch back to what has become his usual right back slot. Ajayi and Bartley were the centre back partnership for that final game, but Bilić did swap them around with Hegazi during the post-lockdown period. He now has another option with the signing of Kipré and it will be interesting to see who gets the nod on Sunday and whether one partnership will become a regular pairing in the coming weeks.
Whatever the starting line up, there does seem to be a good degree of confidence around the Baggies camp – hopefully, that won’t be destroyed on Sunday! And while this weekend brings the season start, we are all waiting for the time when we can get back to the Hawthorns to watch the boys in action. That date can’t come soon enough!
Leicester Fosse, as they were known at that time, first visited the Hawthorns for a Division Two fixture in January 1902. Albion’s Dan Nurse scored the only goal of the game to complete the league double over the Foxes.
On their next visit, however, Leicester recorded what remains their biggest victory on Albion soil. It was a first round FA Cup tie in January 1905 and the visitors won 5-2 with Arthur Mounteney scoring a hat trick.
Leicester’s biggest league win at the Hawthorns is somewhat more recent. On their last visit in March 2018, Claude Puel’s side won 4-1 matching the result they achieved ten years earlier when Steve Howard scored an unlikely hat trick against the team that would go on to win the Championship title.
In April 2015, City were the visitors on Astle Day as the Baggies paid tribute to the King. Jamie Vardy didn’t read the script, however, as he scored a 91st minute winner in what was Leicester’s second victory in what was to become a remarkable run of form that saved them from relegation and ultimately continued into the following season when they won the Premier League title.
Albion’s biggest win over Leicester came in March 1965 when the aforementioned Jeff Astle opened the scoring on 6 minutes and also completed what became a rout with his second goal 14 minutes from time. Gerry Howshall, Clive Clark, Ken Foggo and Graham Williams all scored in between times making the final score 6-0.
The record aggregate score between the sides at the Hawthorns also saw the hosts score six goals. It was April 1958 when Brian Whitehouse scored two, Bobby Robson scored a hat trick while Derek Kevan also scored in a 6-2 victory. One of the Foxes’ scorers was Arthur Rowley who, having started his career at the Hawthorns, went on to become the Football League’s record goalscorer with 434 goals over his career with Albion, Fulham, Leicester and Shrewsbury Town.
The Baggies last home win over City was more than ten years ago when James Morrison and Robert Koren (2) scored in a 3-0 victory in April 2010.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
10 Mar 2018 – Premier League
West Brom 1 (Rondón)
Leicester City 4 (Vardy, Mahrez, Iheanacho, Iborra)
6 Nov 2016 – Premier League
Leicester City 1 (Slimani)
West Brom 2 (Morrison, Phillips)
Last win at the Hawthorns
2 Apr 2010 – League Championship
West Brom 3 (Morrison, Koren (2))
Leicester City 0
Albion’s Record against Leicester City
|Premier League Record|