This season West Bromwich Albion fans have been treated to some sparkling, attacking football and are currently sitting pretty at the top of the Championship.
Slaven Bilic has restored joy back into the Hawthorns after Albion experienced play-off heartbreak at the hand of local rivals Aston Villa last May.
Fans would have been forgiven for feeling pessimistic before a ball was kicked, due in large part to the departures of key players and staff over the summer. Once it had transpired that Dwight Gayle refused to return for a second season on Deadline Day, as per the Shileds Gazette, there was undoubted scepticism surrounding the Midlands outfit’s promotion chances.
However, this cynicism was clearly not shared by the players and coaching staff as the Baggies have stylishly romped seven points clear (BBC) of third place Brentford, at the time of writing. New signings Romaine Sawyers and Grady Diangana have particularly shone under their new Croatian boss and Matheus Pereira has emerged as perhaps one of the league’s best footballer. As the season continues, trepidation naturally grows as Albion desperately search for a return to the Premier League.
After five winless games, a few injuries and some disappointing performances, the Baggies are looking over their shoulder. This could be a memorable season for Albion supporters, but there are some worrying signs appearing that may have gone unnoticed. Here are four worrying statistics that Bilic and his side need to address to give themselves the best chance of promotion.
West Brom haven’t won when Diangana doesn't feature
Diangana has been a revelation for West Brom this season. Five goals and as many assists, according to WhoScored.com – a highly impressive return. However, it doesn’t illustrate quite how integral the tricky winger is to his side’s success.
In the six games in which Diangana has not featured since his arrival, Albion have drawn five and lost one. Conversely, when the West Ham loanee has played Albion have won 13 games, drawn seven and only lost once – achieving an average of over two points per game.
This statistic exposes the apparent over-reliance of Albion’s attacking play on Diangana and the inability to outscore teams in his absence. Edwards has deputised fairly well when he has played, but with the very real threat of West Ham recalling their loan star this month, it is imperative that Bilic finds new ways to score goals and kill games off; whether that be tactically or by bringing in a new signing to add to his slightly limited options.
Pereira hasn't recorded a goal or an assist in over nine hours of football
A real fan favourite, and at his best, one of the most talented and technically gifted footballers to have donned an Albion jersey in years. WhoScored.com claim Pereira has assisted a staggering 10 goals and scored a further five since joining from Sporting in the summer.
A scintillating performance against Swansea in mid-December from Pereira included a well-taken goal and a further three assists for the Brazilian. But he has not scored or assisted since. This may be due in part to the aforementioned absence of Diangana, but Pereira’s uncharacteristic squandered chance to score on the weekend may point to a lack of confidence or fatigue.
It may also be worth noting that Pereira struggles away from the Hawthorns with a return of only one goal and two assists in 13 away appearances. Meanwhile, the 23-year-old has bagged four goals and assisted eight more in his 12 league games at home. Can Bilic get Pereira to replicate his home form on the road this season? If he can, you’d expect automatic promotion to be all but assured for West Brom come the end of the season.
No home clean sheets all season
The Hawthorns has seen more goals from their home side than any other ground in the Championship. But QPR (27) are the only team outside the current bottom six sides to concede more than West Brom (19) at home this year, based on WhoScored.com statistics.
Obviously this is an area of concern for fans despite Semi Ajayi’s strong performances and a resurgence in form for Kyle Bartley. It’s hard to accurately attribute why so many goals are being conceded besides Albion’s poor track record defending set-pieces. Bilic has declared his frustration regarding sloppy set-piece defending from his side after the 2-2 draw at Charlton. It could well be that if the Baggies continue to drop points and fail to secure clean sheets at home as a result of poor set-piece defending, then it could be the difference between agony and ecstasy in May.
Ten points against the current bottom six sides
One area that will worry fans is that their team haven’t been ruthless enough against comparatively weaker sides in the division. With only three victories out of a possible eight, the Baggies may well begin to rue these missed opportunities towards the end of the season.
When you compare Albion’s record against the current bottom six with Leeds’ record, it paints an interesting picture. Leeds have won five out of their six games, only losing once. More interestingly, however, they have kept four clean sheets, conceded only two goals and have notched 11 goals in those games. Leeds’ ability to shut out sides is impressive, and Albion could do with taking a leaf out of their promotion rival’s book as they have shipped 11 goals to the same opposition, albeit in two extra games.
It’s up to Bilic and his team to show their superiority and claim three points when they face struggling teams, especially considering Leeds and Brentford both play four of the current bottom six teams in their last seven league fixtures. Improvements need to be made and quickly.