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Everton vs West Brom: The Opposition View

We chatted with Baggies fan and writer Matt Evans ahead of Saturday’s Goodison clash

Everton v West Bromwich Albion - Premier League - Goodison Park
Oumar Niasse scored for Everton in the 1-1 draw the last time these sides met in 2018
Photo by Peter Byrne/PA Images via Getty Images

Everton will look to make it three wins from as many games this season when they host West Bromwich Albion on Saturday.

Given the Goodison Park clash is Saturday’s early kick-off, the Blues have the chance to go top of the Premier League, albeit probably only temporarily.

West Brom, second in the Championship last season, returned to the top-flight with a bump, losing 3-0 at home to Leicester City last Sunday.

But Slaven Bilic’s men did at least bounce back with a home win by the same scoreline over Harrogate Town in the EFL Cup on Wednesday.

Prior to Saturday’s game, we spoke to Albion fan and blogger Matt Evans:

RBM: Firstly, with little more than two weeks left of the transfer window, how well-equipped do you think West Brom are to stay up?

Matt: Up to now, most of the transfer window has been spent simply bringing in players who were here last season on loan back in on a permanent basis. Matheus Pereira, Grady Diangana and Callum Robinson have now all joined permanently while Slaven Bilic is desperate for the fourth and final loanee, Filip Krovinovic, to also be signed back up.

Even after those signings, we’re still looking pretty short in a couple of areas, most notably up front. We’re currently still carrying the same forward line as last season, which is made up of Hal Robson-Kanu, Charlie Austin and Kenneth Zohore. Robson-Kanu and Austin were our joint-top scorers with only ten each; without bringing in at least one striker, then it’s going to be a struggle this year.

FBL-ENG-PR-WEST BROM-LEICESTER
West Brom lost 3-0 to Leicester in their opening game last weekend
Photo by MICHAEL REGAN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

RBM: Of the 11 players that started against Leicester, only two have been regulars in Premier League sides previously (Kieran Gibbs, Jake Livermore). Do you worry West Brom lack experience in the top-flight?

Matt: I don’t think it’s the be all and end all, you only have to look at what Sheffield United did last season to see that you don’t need Premier League experience to be a success.

Having said that, some extra experience at the back wouldn’t go amiss, which hopefully the signing of Branislav Ivanovic should provide, although he won’t be fit for this game.

RBM: Former Everton player Slaven Bilic is now in his second season as West Brom boss, having led them to promotion last term. Where has he most improved them since taking over?

Matt: He’s just bought the fun back more than anything else. After the misery of Tony Pulis’ reign and then the craziness of Alan Pardew’s, Darren Moore went some way to healing the divide between the club and fans, but Bilic has taken that to the next level.

Just by watching him on the sidelines, you can see the passion he has for the job and for the club. In addition to that, he won a lot of games and didn’t lose many, with lots of goals being scored and nice football being played, which always tends to make you pretty popular!

West Bromwich Albion v Leicester City - Premier League
Bilic previously managed in the Premier League with West Ham
Photo by Rui Vieira - Pool/Getty Images

RBM: West Brom won only three of their nine post-lockdown Championship games before Sunday’s defeat to Leicester as well. Do you think they have suffered more than most from the absence of supporters?

Matt: To be honest, I don’t know whether things might have been even worse if fans were allowed in. The players already seemed tense enough without having the nervousness of the supporters playing on their mind as well.

I think that bad form was a combination of things of which the lack of fans was only a small part. Albion were on a roll prior to lockdown and then just found it a struggle to get going subsequently, whereas Brentford essentially had a fresh start and no pressure. They went on an incredible winning run but ultimately, as soon as things were in their hands, they folded under the pressure and Albion did enough to get over the line.

Taking the Leicester game into account, I always expected the first month to be a struggle due to our tendency not to do our business until late in the transfer window.

RBM: Bilic made ten changes in Wednesday’s win over Harrogate. Did anyone stake a claim to be in the starting XI on Saturday?

Matt: There weren’t too many stand-out performers in what was a workmanlike win for West Brom. Sam Field was probably the most impressive of the bunch and as our only natural defensive midfield player, he could have a chance at starting in the holding role on Saturday.

RBM: How do you expect West Brom to set up on Saturday?

Matt: Albion played with five at the back against Leicester but I can’t see that continuing as once they’d figured out that slight surprise, they created several chances before going ahead and cruising to victory.

I think Bilic will go with four at the back, with potentially Field coming in as a holding midfielder as mentioned above. Conor Gallagher has just signed on loan from Chelsea and he could come straight into the starting line up as either part of a midfield three or in the number ten role.

RBM: Which areas of the pitch should Everton look to exploit?

Matt: With Ivanovic still unavailable, the centre of our defence looks particularly vulnerable. Semi Ajayi and Dara O’Shea are both very talented and impressive young defenders, but perhaps lack a bit of nous and experience that you’d hope would come from a more experienced partner alongside them.

Unfortunately, the two current options who fit that profile, Ahmed Hegazi and Kyle Bartley, have shown themselves to be anything but reliable, calming presences at this level.

Everton v West Bromwich Albion - Premier League
Everton last beat West Brom in March 2017
Photo by Mark Robinson/Getty Images

RBM: Which of West Brom’s players do you think could cause Everton the most problems?

Matt: Pereira lit up the Championship last season and was quiet by his standards against Leicester. He’s Albion’s biggest creative force and chief set-piece taker; if he plays a big part, then West Brom could get something from the game.

RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Saturday’s game?

Matt: A 2-1 win for Everton, but hopefully Albion will get on the scoresheet and give a good account of themselves.

Our thanks to Matt for his time.