West Brom 0 Manchester City 5
Any positivity from Albion’s last two away games was dissipated very early on at the Hawthorns on Tuesday evening as a ruthless Manchester City side tore into a lacklustre Baggies team to take a deserved 4-0 half time lead. With Sterling adding a fifth after the break, it means that Albion have conceded 22 goals in their last five home games, 17 of them in the four since Sam Allardyce arrived at the club.
It was a first half performance that was littered with mistakes and, while individual players obviously have to take responsibility for their own lapses, you do have to question why Allardyce opted to change the back four that had generally performed well at West Ham at Wolves, despite conceding two goals in each game, and to leave one of Albion’s best performers of the season, Conor Gallagher, on the bench. Furthermore, the decision to play Karlan Grant on the left wing in a match when it was obvious that the wide players would spend much of the time defending was baffling.
Romaine Sawyers is not a bad footballer, but he is not a defensive midfielder. Sawyers thrived in a Albion side that dominated possession in the first half of last season but at the base of the midfield in the Premier League, he too frequently looks out of his depth. Against a City side whose movement and fluidity can bamboozle even the most gifted of defensive midfielders, Sawyers looked lost, particularly in the first half. He didn’t help himself by not playing to the whistle for the second goal, and not clearing quick enough for the third but, in my opinion, he should not be playing in that position.
Kyle Bartley has often been criticised, but he is a player who loves to defend and would have been one of the first names on my teamsheet after his performances in the last two games and, indeed, I wouldn’t have changed the back four at all. It was no surprise that the Baggies defended better after the break when Bartley came on.
Darnell Furlong is not as defensively strong as Dara O’Shea, and he was not helped by a lacklustre Robert Snodgrass who frequently left him exposed by not tracking Zinchenko.
City are obviously a fantastic side and in great form with this result making it eleven consecutive victories since Albion drew at the Etihad last month, but the Baggies were a shambles at the back in that first half, and Big Sam must take responsibility – he has had plenty of time to work with this squad, and that defence looked far from well-drilled.
A word on the “controversy” of the second goal. While Sian Massey-Ellis did put her flag up earlier than she perhaps should have, every footballer knows that it is only the referee’s whistle that stops the game, and those that did stop have only themselves to blame.
Allardyce was obviously angry and did not emerge for his post-match interview, but he must not only look at his players but also at himself. Ultimately, this result won’t relegate Albion, but with five of the next seven games against the other teams in the bottom six, he needs to find a series of big results if he is to keep his precious record of never being relegated.