Premier League | The Hawthorns | Mon 20 Jan | 8pm
New Baggies boss Pepe Mel’s first chance to lay down a marker and save his daughter’s honour. Sort of.
Pepe who? That’s pretty much what the British press said when they went scurrying to the new West Brom manager’s Wikipedia page. We know this because The Guardian, Daily Mail, Sky Sports and The Independent all spoke glowingly of a 2004 spell at Brazilian behemoths Corinthians for a manager who had only ever coached in his native Spain before rocking up in the Black Country. As Wiki hoaxes go, it’s not quite as amusing as crowning Fiona Phillips Britain’s best vegetable, but it’s a good one.
WEST BROM FORM
- So'ton 1-0 WBA (Prem)
- WBA 0-2 Palace (FAC)
- WBA 1-0 Newcastle (Prem)
- West Ham 3-3 WBA (Prem)
- Spurs 1-1 WBA (Prem)
- Everton 2-0 Norwich (Prem)
- Everton 4-0 QPR (FAC)
- Stoke 1-1 Everton (Prem)
- Everton 2-1 So'ton (Prem)
- Everton 0-1 S'land (Prem)
La Liga’s longest-serving manager before his December sacking from Real Betis, Mel’s job for the Seville club had been impressive. Achieving promotion from Segunda, Betis finished seventh last year, earning Europa League football with a team almost entirely made up of youth graduates.
Indeed, he gave first-team debuts to 16 of them, including Swansea stars Alex Pozuelo and Jose Canas, plus West Ham keeper Adrian.
A published author – Dan Brown-inspired El Mentiroso (The Liar) tells the story of an antiques dealer who fights the Vatican over stolen manuscripts – Mel is a Heston Blumenthal lookalike who is just as passionate about his excelling at his job. The 50-year-old once famously declared: “I would prefer my daughter to come home pregnant than for Betis to go down.” Though los Verdiblancos were bottom when Mel left, most fans were sad to see him go.
Since Steve Clarke’s dismissal after four straight defeats, also in December, caretaker boss Keith Downing has performed admirably and was unbeaten before last weekend’s 1-0 loss at Southampton.
The return of Ben Foster in goal gives the back four, led by Gareth McAuley and Jonas Olsson, some stability, while Saido Berahino – the Premier League find of the season – and Nicolas Anelka add a little stardust. A handful of good Artur Boruc saves away from getting a result at St Mary’s, Mel will be hoping for an immediate response to his methods to secure the Baggies’ ascent up the league.
The serene season Everton are putting together continues apace. The 2-0 win against Norwich was about as regulation as top-flight wins come and notched up another clean sheet for a defence that has conceded just 19 times in 21 games. When Gareth Barry resembles Yaya Toure in full flight, you know something’s up.
Even in the absence of Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin – the latter is back training – youngster John Stones has performed with admirable calm as Roberto Martinez’s blend of ball retention and high pressing keeps the ball penned in the opposition half. With new recruit Aiden McGeady now eligible after his move from Spartak Moscow, the Spaniard has more midfield variety, especially with teenage sensation Ross Barkley injured.
Still only a point behind Merseyside rivals Liverpool in the race for fourth – the Scousers, Spurs and Manchester United seem locked in a four-way battle for the final Champions League spot – the Toffees’ consistency could be the crucial factor in the run-in. Given they have no discernable weakness, compared to Liverpool’s porous defence, Spurs’ goalscoring and United’s jitters, they may even be favourites.
Stephane Sessegnon will face a late fitness test, while Goran Popov, Billy Jones and Victor Anichebe all miss out, but are approaching full fitness.
Barkley joins Gerard Deulofeu, Arouna Kone and Darron Gibson on the injury table. Distin may return.
Key battle: Steven Reid vs Leighton Baines
With Billy Jones out because of a minor eye operation, deputy Reid will have his work cut out against the Premier League’s most deadly of defenders. Once a central midfielder, Reid must focus on his defensive discipline against the marauding left-back. Though diligent enough against Southampton, the former Blackburn Rover must keep Baines and Steven Pienaar – arguably the league’s best left-hand flank – quiet throughout if West Brom are to emerge victorious.
Against Norwich, Baines was again superb, creating 2 chances and completing more final-third passes than anyone else. It’s still difficult to believe he’s a full-back.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Everton 0-0 WBA (Prem, Aug 13)
- Everton 2-1 WBA (Prem, Jan 13)
- WBA 2-0 Everton (Prem, Sep 12)
- Everton 2-0 WBA (Prem, Mar 12)
- WBA 0-1 Everton (Prem, Jan 12)
At least Mel will be greeted by a compatriot in the opposing dugout on Monday evening for his Premier League debut.
Whether West Brom will stretch to a translator, Mauricio Pochettino-style, remains to be seen. Both teams try to play attractive football, so expect two progressive 4-2-3-1s to serve up a Monday evening treat.
TIPS & TRENDS
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Facts and figures
- Nicolas Anelka has scored 8 Premier League goals against Everton, only netting more against Blackburn in the history of the competition (12).
- Everton have won 4 and lost just 1 of the last 6 meetings with West Brom in all competitions.
- Everton have lost 0 of their last 6 Premier League away games (W3 D3 L0).
- Everton have been level at half-time in their last 6 away matches.
- West Brom have conceded first in their last 3 matches against top-six teams.
- Everton defenders have contributed 10 goals this season, as many as West Brom’s strikers have (10).
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Everton too strong. 1-2.