West Brom 0 Burnley 0
This first goalless draw of the Premier League season was, for me, a product of fear. With both sides yet to record a victory this season, I felt that both feared losing to what looks like being a relegation rival more than they wanted to win, resulting in a stalemate. Nonetheless, there were plenty of promising signs for the Baggies.
The hosts were probably the better side overall, and dominated possession with 57% overall, but both sides had their chances and a draw was arguably a fair result. I’m sure that Bilić sent them out to win the game, but I just felt that, at times, they were a little safe and perhaps didn’t commit players forward as much as they could have done, fearful of being caught at the back.
Given Burnley’s start to the season, this was definitely a missed opportunity, but there were still plenty of positives for Albion. They looked far more solid at the back than they had been so far this campaign, largely thanks to the introduction of Branislav Ivanović into the centre of defence. I must admit to being fearful as to whether the Serb could still do it in the Premier League, but he put in a superb performance – he organised the defence, and the midfield, barking his orders and was quick to spot danger and snuff it out. He even came close to scoring on more than one occasion. He will have tougher, and quicker, opponents that Burnley’s front line, but on that showing, Ivanović could turn out to be one of the signings of the season.
Bilić surprised us all with the line up, particularly with defence. Ahmed Hegazi made his first appearance of the season having only appeared in one matchday squad beforehand, while the decision to leave the fit and free-from-suspension Kieran Gibbs out of the squad altogether was completely unexpected. The Croat has also previously shied away from playing two “attacking” full backs when playing with a back four, but Furlong and Townsend both started and put in impressive performances.
Behind them, Sam Johnstone was excellent with two superb saves from Ashley Barnes and the defence as a whole were worthy of their first clean sheet of the campaign.
Moreover, the midfield three was a revelation and looked so much more balanced that we have seen this season. If Ivanović’s debut was impressive, Conor Gallagher wasn’t far behind. With Jake Livermore playing in the defensive midfield role that he played for England, Gallagher and Krovinović had licence to get forward and play and the young Chelsea loanee did not disappoint. He had a pass completion rate of in excess of 92%, nobody on the field made more tackles and he covered every inch of the Hawthorns pitch. It was a very promising Premier League debut.
Given that Callum Robinson was able to play, it was, perhaps, a surprise that Karlan Grant started, but I guess it was influenced by the size of the Burnley defence. He was not surprisingly a little rusty, but finished the one clear cut chance he had well only for it to be disallowed for offside. There were some promising early signs of link ups with Pereira, Diangana and Krovinović, and that understanding will only grow in the coming weeks and months.
Yes, it was a missed opportunity, but it was something of a reboot of the season now that Bilić has his full squad together. Albion look harder to play against, the midfield has the right balance and there are now more options up front. A spark of renewed optimism, perhaps.