West Brom v Tottenham, Sunday 1:30, Sky Sports 1.
A meeting between two former Jose Mourinho protégés, and two fine tacticians with opposing approaches. Steve Clarke has instructed his sides to be defensive-minded and reactive this season, while Andre Villas-Boas prefers a more adventurous, attacking game.
The general shape of the match is easy to predict - a 4-2-3-1 versus 4-2-3-1, with Tottenham dominating possession, and West Brom defending in two banks of four before counter-attacking quickly. Both coaches, however, have some important selection decisions to make.
Clarke should have Youssouf Mulumbu available following Congo's elimination from the Africa Cup of Nations, but it remains to be seen whether he'll be considered fit to start this match - he'll be tired following his exertions in South Africa, and such a sudden climate change can also have negative consequences upon a player's fitness. Still, his relationship with Claudio Yacob was one of the primary reasons for the Baggies' strong start to the campaign, and Clarke will be keen for Mulumbu to return so Chris Brunt can return to his favoured position, out wide.
The other wide role is up for grabs - Zoltan Gera is out for the season, a great shame considering some of his performances this season, while Peter Odemwingie won't take part after his amusing deadline day activities. Instead, Jerome Thomas is an option, but Clarke might go for the more defensive-minded Graham Dorrans from the start, before opening up later on. Upfront, Romelu Lukaku has ousted Shane Long to become West Brom's main striker, and will be the primary goalscoring threat.
Villas-Boas must decide whether to give a full debut to new signing Lewis Holtby, or continue with Clint Dempsey in the role behind Jermain Defoe. Villas-Boas would prefer to ease Holtby in gently, but Dempsey hasn't been particularly impressive in recent weeks, and Villas-Boas might learn from the Hugo Lloris-Brad Friedel episode, and simply play his new signing immediately. The man in this role, up against the combination of Mulumbu and Yacob, will be particularly important for Spurs, but Holtby seems better suited to provide both a passing option, and a goalscoring threat.
At the back, Villas-Boas' rotation at centre-back has been frustrating. Against Lukaku, he'll want both strength and pace - Michael Dawson and Jan Vertonghen seems a good bet - but more important is the positioning of the backline. They're likely to play high up the pitch, which means that Lukaku will try to sprint in behind, and might have a running battle with the linesman, as well as Dawson, who is Spurs' slowest defender.
Another key clash is Gareth Bale against Billy Jones - the West Brom right-back has been impressive this season, but sometimes is too keen to attack, and leaves too much space behind him in counter-attacking situations. West Brom need to offer him support on that side, which is another reason to think Dorrans might get the nod.
Clarke will be particularly keen for James Morrison to find space in the role behind Lukaku. He's excellent at drawing wide into pockets of space near the flanks, creating overloads to manufacture crossing situations. Villas-Boas likes his sides to press in midfield, which can leave the defence - especially the full-backs - exposed. If Morrison takes up clever positions to facilitate quick West Brom attacks, Tottenham will struggle to keep a clean sheet.
A draw looks a decent bet here, but it's worth considering that West Brom have recorded only four draws this season (the second fewest in the Premier League) and Tottenham have picked up just six (joint-fourth fewest). Still, Spurs have drawn their last three Premier League games, while West Brom are in poor form but have performed impressively against top-half sides at home this season. The draw, at [3.5], is just about good value.
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