Slaven Bilic’s West Brom face Brighton at the Falmer Stadium and will be looking to build on the many positives that were to be seen in the 0-0 draw with Burnley.
The game against Burnley saw witness to a bit of a shake-up from Bilic, switching back to a 4-3-3 system. The biggest change came in the defence, with Bilic opting for Darnell Furlong, Ahmed Hegazi, Branislav Ivanovic and Conor Townsend in the back-four.
Jake Livermore also returned to a much more defensive role in midfield, with Conor Gallagher and Filip Krovinovic offering much more energy than Romaine Sawyers had managed so far this season.
Karlan Grant also played his first game for the Albion and had the ball in the back of the net, though it was ruled out for being marginally offside. This will give Bilic some hope that more is to come as the season progresses.
Brighton are a much more attacking outlet than Burnley, however, and so Albion will likely have to be more careful when breaking forward.
Team News and Predicted XI
Sam Field suffered a knee injury over the international break and so will be the only absentee Albion have to deal with. Despite what he offers defensively, this is unlikely to affect Bilic’s plans too much.
It will be particularly interesting to see whether Bilic sticks to the back four that earned a first clean sheet of the season against Burnley. But, as we all know, nothing is simple in football.
Ivanovic and Hegazi worked well against a very physical Burnley side, totaling a combined 18 clearances throughout the game. Each centre back was assigned to man-mark each of Burnley’s two strikers and so the assignment was pretty clear.
Brighton’s frontman Neil Maupay, however, will offer a much more versatile threat: he gets in behind, has pace and is a very accomplished finisher, with a total of four goals already.
That being the case, Semi Ajayi’s pace, combined with Ivanovic’s experience and resilience could be more effective against this very free-flowing, attacking side.
Furlong is likely to keep his place at right-back, with the Englishman not having been dribbled past so far this season; on the other side of defence though, Bilic may think about reintroducing Kieran Gibbs following his suspension, as he offers more experience and pace.
The problem is, Bilic will be reluctant to change, at least from a defensive point of view, a winning formula: changing half the defence risks destroying the momentum Albion may have gained from the clean sheet last week.
For this reason, Conor Townsend, who did impress against Burnley, will also likely retain his place, with Ajayi being the only addition to the back four.
Barring any last minute injuries, Bilic is unlikely to tinker with the midfield and attacking three’s, respectively.
Graham Potter has more of a headache defensively as Lewis Dunk will miss the game through suspension.
Solly March and Tariq Lamptey will likely continue at wing-back.
In the middle, Yves Bissouma’s partner is likely to be Steven Alzate, while Leandro Trossard and Adam Lallana are likely to keep their places further up the pitch.
Maupay will continue to lead the line, though Danny Welbeck will be hoping to make his debut after joining on a free transfer.
The Game Plan
Brighton have only won one home game in 2020, so Bilic will smell blood – following the clean sheet last week, there is something to build on. Grant’s fitness will be up, as will his understanding with wingers Diangana and Pereira.
The game will by no means be easy though; just as Bilic will see this as opportunity for three points, so will Potter: Brighton have put in good performances, against some tough opposition.
They performed well against Chelsea, despite losing 1-3, and were unlucky to lose against Manchester United, after the final whistle.
Brighton love to bring their wing-backs into attacking play – if Townsend does start, he will have a tough job keeping Tariq Lamptey quiet.
But, with leader and captain Dunk suspended, the real Albion have a good chance of securing their three points of the season.
Brighton are a tough team to break down but there are two factors that could go Albion’s way: they have won one home game 2020 and Dunk is out. If Bilic can coach his team to exploit this, three points could be on the card.
Brighton 1-2 West Brom