Opposition view: West Bromwich Albion
By Ric Turner, Fri 23 December 2011 09:14
Ahead of our Boxing Day clash at The Hawthorns, Bluemoon caught up with Iain (editor of WBA-MAD) and Chris from www.baggies.com to get the lowdown on the opposition...
Who are West Brom’s key players?
Iain: James Morrison has been very good for us in recent weeks. He picked up a hamstring strain against Blackburn Rovers, so hopefully he'll be fit to face City. Jonas Olsson is also one of our main players. He's the heartbeat of our defence and leads the team by example. Puts his head and his body on the line every game.
Chris: Jonas Olsson marshalls the defence well, but the combination of Youssouf Mulumbu, Paul Scharner and Chris Brunt in midfield is vital. When he's on form, Peter Odemwingie is a match winner but he's been erratic so far this season.
Were you happy with the business conducted during the transfer window?
Iain: Yes and no. We brought in quality players like Ben Foster, Shane Long and Zoltan Gera. At the time, the free transfers of Billy Jones and Gareth McAuley were seen as gambles - neither had played in the top flight. However, all of the players that have been added to the squad have improved us. We haven't spent that much money, but we're in a stronger place than last season.
Chris: Very pleased with the signing of Shane Long, although I'd have preferred a permanent signing in goal rather than a loan. I was delighted to see Zoltan Gera return, though sadly he's now been ruled out for the rest of the season.
What are your expectations for this season?
Iain: I think survival will be a bonus again. Last season's 11th place finish could easily have gone the other way. Coincidently, after City beat us 3-0 last season in February we looked odds-on for relegation. But Roy Hodgson came in and did such a wonderful job in transforming the team. He's made us more difficult to beat and used his know-how to win games that we'd have lost before in the Premier League. This season we've lost a bit of flair but seem to be doing well. I don't think we'll beat the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool again this season, but we seem more equipped to beat the sides around us.
Chris: I believe we'll survive again, which has to be our aim in order to keep building the Club. I'd love to finish above Villa but I suspect we'll be neck and neck like last season.
Are you happy with the manager?
Iain: I think Roy Hodgson is a great boss. Realistically he's the best manager we could wish to attract to the club. I can't think of anybody else who could do a better job with the resources we have at the club.
Chris: Like most managers, you can always find something to disagree with - but I was delighted when he joined us last season and I'll be delighted if he signs a new contract to stay past the summer.
Are there any rising starts in the squad that we might not have heard of?
Iain: There's two that really stand out and seem to be pretty exciting prospects. Craig Dawson is a goal-scoring centre-half - yes, you read that right - who is playing regularly for England Under-21s but is currently warming our bench. Dawson isn't the biggest but has a tremendous jump on him and always seems to be in the right place at the right time from corners. His goalscoring record for a defender is really impressive. I'm sure in seasons to come he'll go on to cement a place in Albion's defence. The other prospect coming through the ranks is George Thorne. Albion rejected England's U20 calls in the summer to take him to the World Cup in Mexico so he could train with the first team. He's made a handful of appearances from the bench and recently spent a month at Fratton Park where they were impressed with him. If he continues like he is, I expect him to play for England one day.
Chris: Midfielder George Thorne is definitely one for the future, while defenders Craig Dawson and Billy Jones have come highly rated.
If you could have any City player in your team who would you choose?
Iain: Probably David Silva. He's got such great technique on the ball he makes it look easy. Fingers crossed he has an off-day against the Baggies.
Chris: It's probably easier to say who I wouldn't choose, and even that's a struggle! I'd love to watch Aguero every week, but Dzeko could probably give our attack a dimension it lacks at the moment.
What is your perception of City as a club?
Iain: I've always liked City. It can't have been easy living in the shadow of United for all of the those years. Yet the club has retained its fan base and now looks like it'll go places after the recent investment.
Chris: Historically I've always had a lot of respect for the support you've given them despite some rather inept management, although I find the huge sums of money being thrown around in the game by rich owners nowadays rather vulgar. But I'm enjoying watching some of the football it's producing.
Likely West Brom starting XI for the game, and score prediction?
Iain: If everybody is fit at present I'd go with: Foster; Reid, McAuley, Olsson, Shorey; Morrison, Scharner, Mulumbu, Brunt; Long and Odemwingie. Unfortunately I think it'll be an away win!
Chris: The defence pretty much picks itself at the moment but I think we'll struggle if we try to play 4-4-2, so perhaps a midfield of Brunt, Mulumbu, Scharner, Dorrans and Morrison and either Odemwingie or Long up front. I can't see us stopping you scoring, but perhaps you'll get someone sent off again and we'll fight back for 2-2.