Albion face an uphill battle from the get-go on Tuesday night as they travel to the Etihad Stadium to face Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.
After another body blow on Saturday against Newcastle United, pressure has further increased on Albion boss Slaven Bilić and The Citizens will be looking to add to that in order to rise towards the top of the table in a season which hasn’t yet gone all their own way.
Team news and Predicted XI
A dire first-half display which saw the Baggies fall behind in less than thirty seconds prompted Bilić to make drastic changes at the interval with Callum Robinson and Karlan Grant being replaced by Charlie Austin and Kieran Gibbs.
This allowed Matt Phillips to push further upfield and Gibbs to operate in his natural wing-back role. Whilst the second-half performance was much improved it would come as a surprise if the Croat was to leave both his first choice striking options out of the XI.
Austin – who hasn’t started a first team match since the 3-0 Carabao Cup win over Harrogate – impressed his manager with Bilić stating that his “bravery, physicality” and the ability to “hold the ball” had “made a lot of difference” to his team: these are attributes that are likely to be required in a match where Albion will have their back’s against the wall for longer periods.
Gibbs is likely to return to the starting lineup with logic suggesting that having defenders in their natural positions is a necessity if Albion are to claim an unlikely positive result.
Jake Livermore could also come back into the the XI with the skipper adding steel and leadership to the team.
Albion will presumably continue with a system which includes five defenders as they look to deny goalscoring opportunities from the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez.
Albion’s Predicted XI: (5-3-2)
Following a scoreless draw in the Manchester Derby, City will be looking prove their goalscoring credentials once more.
This could see Sergio Aguero involved in the matchday squad with Guardiola admitting he “will decide tomorrow” if Aguero is well enough to return following illness.
Pep is unlikely to change a defence that limited United to an XG of just 0.68, with his side on a run of six consecutive clean sheets in all competitions.
One change could see İlkay Gündoğan feature alongside Rodri in midfield with the German international providing added guile and creativity as opposed to the hardworking, defensive-minded option of Fernandinho.
There are also decisions to be made over the inclusion of Riyad Mahrez who faces competition from Ferran Torres.
Defenders Eric Garcia and Olkesandr Zinchenko are both unavailable due to injury.
Manchester City’s Predicted XI: (4-2-3-1)
The Game Plan
As previously mentioned it appears extremely unlikely that Albion will come away from Manchester with at least a draw, with some bookmakers offering up to 33/1 for the Baggies to win.
This cannot be deemed harsh though, as Bilić’s men look devoid of the required quality to win Premier League matches against lower placed opposition, let alone one of the country’s best teams.
It is difficult to imagine this fixture going any other way than City dominating possession and breaking through the Albion defence.
The aforementioned De Bruyne is key to his team’s overall performance, although his teammates cannot be ignored either, with every one of Guardiola’s players capable of deciding the outcome of a football match.
If Albion are to come away with a result they must remain resolute throughout the whole ninety minutes, as one lapse in concentration is all it takes to provide City with a goalscoring opportunity.
Set-pieces are a route to goal that Bilić could look to exploit with the likes of Ajayi, Ivanović and O’Shea providing a threat.
Whoever starts up top for the Baggies will be required to put in the hard yards and hold the ball up effectively.
Match Prediction: Manchester City 4-0 West Brom