The Baggies welcome Aston Villa back to the Hawthorns for the first time since the play-off final heartbreak two seasons ago. Unfortunately, the stadium will not be packed with fans to serenade the arrival of new manager Sam Allardyce — Albion’s supposed saviour.
It has been a rollercoaster week for all involved with the club. The highs of a draw away at the Etihad were tarnished by what many believe to be the cruel dismissal of Bilic, less than six months after guiding them back to the Premier League. This tough start to life back in the big time will continue for Allardyce who takes charge of a team for the first time in over two years.
The stern test of Dean Smith’s Aston Villa will be the visitors on Sunday evening who will be looking to make it two derby delights in the space of a week. After pipping Wolves to three points last Saturday they were brought back down to earth with a goalless draw against Burnley, and Albion will be looking to frustrate a Villa side who failed to hit the net even with 27 shots against the Lancashire side.
For West Brom, it is a shot at redemption and a chance for Allardyce to keep up his record of winning every managerial home debut without conceding.
Team news and Predicted XI
Pereira will be missing from the squad as he serves his final match of his three game suspension. Townsend, Bartley, Robson-Kanu and Field are also all likely to be absent due to injury and lack of fitness.
Livermore and Gibbs, who both had lengthy absences before the trip to the Etihad, put in a solid showing and will certainly be in the mix to retain their places.
Lee Peltier made his Premier League debut in the closing stages of Tuesday nights clash but I don’t expect him to threaten the partnership of Ajayi and O’Shea, who both put in stellar performances. Ivanovic, who didn’t make the trip to Manchester, might also be in the mix again as Allardyce looks to retain defensive composure — although his performances have tailed off recently when compared to earlier on in the campaign.
It remains to be seen what Allardyce will do on the attacking front. Grant, who had another disappointing game, will still be in with a chance thanks to Robson Kanu’s injury. And despite a nice cameo from Austin it remains unlikely that he will start the game.
The visitors will be bolstered by the returns of Douglas Luiz and Matty Cash, with the latter scoring for Nottingham Forest against Albion last time out.
Ezri Konsa, who has been a menace from set pieces this season, was unwell last time out and an assessment will be made later today as to whether he will be involved. Aston Villa’s potential misfortune on this might work in Albion’s favour.
Villa have also been struggling since the injury to Ross Barkley. Having seen the goals flow with the creative ability of Grealish and Barkley linking up, they have managed only three goals in the four games he has been absent. He is slowly getting back to fitness but the game on Sunday might prove to come too soon for the risk to be taken.
Elsewhere, Trezeguet and Wesley both remain sidelined.
The Game Plan
Everyone will be deeply intrigued to see how Allardyce approaches this game. It is a chance for Albion to show their grit in the first local derby back in the Premier League.
The key will be to frustrate the visitors and limit the chances Grealish can make. With Barkley looking more unlikely to start, play will be orchestrated by Villa’s talisman so it will be vital to shut him out. In classic Sean Dyche fashion Burnley set up hard to beat, and Villa’s impatience led to their own downfall and they lacked the cutting edge to kill the game.
They, too, have been hard to beat with new keeper Emiliano Martinez leading the clean sheet tally. So Albion, like against City, are going to need to be clinical and ride their luck if they are going to come out on top. But there are no excuses not to see maximum effort from all the squad who will be looking to prove their worth ahead of a transfer window which Allardyce has already publicly earmarked.
However disgruntled fans may be following Bilic’s sacking, that page is turned and we must look ahead at what Big Sam can bring. Having never been relegated from the top flight what better way to kick off arguably his toughest challenge yet than a home tie against the Villa.