The FourFourTwo Preview: West Brom vs Cardiff
Cardiff's chance to leapfrog the Baggies with a 10-0 win.
The most fiercely competitive title race in years has somewhat overshadowed what is looking like an almighty scramble for safety at the bottom.
WEST BROM FORM
- Hull 2-0 WBA (Prem)
- Swansea 1-2 WBA (Prem)
- WBA 0-3 Man Utd (Prem)
- WBA 1-1 Fulham (Prem)
- WBA 1-1 Chelsea (Prem)
- Cardiff 3-6 Liverpool (Prem)
- Everton 2-1 Cardiff (Prem)
- Cardiff 3-1 Fulham (Prem)
- Spurs 1-0 Cardiff (Prem)
- Cardiff 0-4 Hull (Prem)
The fact West Brom have won just twice in 20 league matches yet only spent one week in the bottom three perhaps illustrates the standard towards the foot of the table. For their part, Cardiff have won just three of their last 21 - one of which came in the reverse fixture against the Baggies.
That kind of form is par for the course for about nine teams - it will be those who click up a few gears who dodge the drop. The nature of the league means this will be far from the last 'six-pointer' these two teams play this season, but certainly in Cardiff's case there is very little margin for error.
Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has stated the Bluebirds will need 12 points from their remaining seven games to achieve safety, and with a trip to Southampton and a final day showdown with Chelsea still marked in the diary, they'll most likely need to make the most of fixtures like Saturday's jaunt to the West Midlands.
What looked like a potential injury crisis for West Brom has become more of a hiccup... not that any player is actually out with the hiccups.
That would be ridiculous. Gareth McAuley should recover from a knock in time, while Diego Lugano and Morgan Amalfitano have both returned to training after knee knacks.
More worryingly, Victor Anichebe, Billy Jones and Claudio Yacob are all major doubts with their own individual hamstring injuries. Chris Brunt is a knee no-no and Jonas Olsson is suspended.
The visitors have a much cleaner bill of health, Craig Noone and Andrew Taylor being the only first-team fitness doubts. Captain Mark Hudson is out for the season.
Key battle: Stephane Sessegnon vs Juan Cala
Centre-back Cala, who signed last month after terminating his contract with Sevilla, has been a rare plug in Cardiff’s leaky defence since replacing Ben Turner alongside Steven Caulker.
The Spaniard is prone to a brainfart – in the 6-3 defeat to Liverpool he switched off to let in Martin Skrtel for an equaliser and was pushed off a high ball by Luis Suarez for the Reds’ sixth – but there’s no doubting his strength in the tackle. In that game he won 8 of his 9 tackles up against dribble king Suarez, no less.
With Anichebe likely to miss out through injury, Pepe Mel may turn to Benin forward Sessegnon as his primary goal threat. Talented but somewhat erratic, the onus is on him to use his skill to get past Cala and Caulker.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- C'diff 1-0 WBA (Prem, Dec 13)
- WBA 4-2 C'diff (FAC, Jan 12)
- C'diff 1-1 WBA (Ch'ship, Feb 10)
- WBA 0-2 C'diff (Ch'ship, Dec 09)
- C'diff 0-0 WBA (Ch'ship, Apr 08)
Mel seems to have mastered the art of looking competent while winning only one of his first nine games – something Solskjaer could ask him about. Mel has talked up "mentality" ahead of this crucial six-pointer, calling it "the most important thing" – but he has also shown his head is in the game by doing research on Cardiff's set-pieces. That's certainly the Bluebirds' major threat, although they did score three goals from open play against Liverpool last weekend.
Solskjaer's reflection after that 6-3 defeat was "We can't carry on like this" - one of the truest things any Premier League boss has ever said.
Facts and figures
- West Brom have lost the first half in 7 consecutive matches and have been 1-0 down at HT in 7 of their last 8 home matches.
- 7 of West Brom’s last 8 home games have had fewer than 3 goals.
- Cardiff have lost their last 8 away matches.
- 4 of Cardiff’s last 5 trips to bottom-half teams have been goalless at half-time.
A scrappy draw that doesn't help the cause of either side. 1-1.