Ask the Opposition

Ask the Opposition 71: West Brom (with Matthew Wilson of The Express & Star)

Manchester City can re-take third place with a win over West Brom tomorrow evening. As the season comes to a close, three teams are still battling it out for the two remaining Champions League qualification places and a victory for the Blues will put them in pole position. Manager of the year nominee Tony Pulis has yet again seen his side avoid relegation and is on track for a top half finish with the Baggies.

We spoke with Matthew Wilson, West Bromwich Albion report for the West Midlands paper, the Express & Star, to see what he has thought of Albion’s season and his predictions for the game.

Thanks for speaking to us Matthew. West Brom are currently 8th in the league, something that may have surprised a few with two games left of the season. Please can you tell us a bit about the year so far and whether the fans are happy with it?

Overall it’s been a good season. The team have already won more points and scored more goals than last year and they had a fantastic four months between November and February. Signings have, on the whole, been a success. Matt Phillips has been a joy to watch this season, Jake Livermore has done well, and Allan Nyom has been a surprise package. The fans were delighted with the way things were going until that 40-point mark was hit at the end of the February, and since then, points have been hard to come by.

West Brom haven’t won a game since beating Arsenal back in March. Do you think reaching that magic 40 point mark has had an effect on the player’s mentality?

I don’t think there’s any way it can’t. Pulis starts every season striving for 40 points, so even if it’s subconsciously, there’s bound to be a release when that mark is hit. However, the performances haven’t tailed off completely. The team have probably deserved to win more points over the last 10 games than they have, but they’ve just been incredibly wasteful in front of goal. But yes, that 40-point mentality is definitely of concern to the fans.

Tony Pulis is a man who simply cannot be relegated and I think it’s fair to say that he’s done an excellent job in steadying the ship at The Hawthorns. However, he is not regarded as a man who can take clubs to that ‘next level’ the owners will aspire to. With this in mind, do you think Pulis has a long term future at West Brom?

Well, he’s never finished in the top half of the Premier League before and that is exactly what the new regime charged him with when they handed him a 12-month contract extension in October. For most of the season, it’s looked like he was going to deliver exactly that, but now that is in serious doubt. However, the indication from chairman John Williams is that Pulis has shown this season what he could achieve, and at the moment, he is their man for the forseeable. Williams hinted that he would offer Pulis another contract in the summer and Pulis has been speaking about his long-term vision for club much more frequently than he used to.

What are your thoughts on Guardiola’s debut season in England?

From the outside, it looks like a failure. City finally got their man and yet he’s delivered no trophies. Some of his decisions, like continuing with Claudio Bravo, also appear baffling. But I think we’ve seen flashes of brilliance in some games when the team pull off what he’s trying to achieve. He inherited a squad that probably couldn’t be moulded into the style he wanted to play, and I imagine that, given time, and a busy summer, he will deliver the trophies everyone expects.

Who are going to be the danger men when the two teams meet during the week?

Pretty much the whole City forward line! Jesus and Sané are two players I’m excited to see. Silva’s class goes without saying, De Bruyne’s gone under the radar this season, but I think he’s done well, and obviously Aguero can make a goal out of nothing. As for Albion, well they haven’t scored in eight of the last 10. I would just watch out for Craig Dawson coming up for corners, because he’s scored four of the club’s last seven (and Gareth McAuley is injured).

Finally, please could we have your predicted starting line-up and what you think the final score will be?

4-1-4-1: Foster; M Wilson, Dawson, Evans, Nyom; Fletcher; Brunt, Field, Livermore, McClean; Rondon

2-0 to City.

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