Talking tactics | West Brom v Swansea City
Swansea City face a crunch clash at West Brom in Sunday’s lunch-time kick off as they seek to get their form back on track.
The game pits an unbeaten home record against a team boasting the only unbeaten away record in the EFL.
The Swans, however, have now failed to win in four and it has seen them drop outside the top six. But they remain just a point off the play-off spots, and if they can string a run of results together then they'll haul themselves back up the table.
The Baggies go into the game on a nine-match unbeaten run, so this match will be difficult to navigate. As the only side yet to lose a home league game in the Championship, Slaven Bilic has his side well drilled as they seek silverware.
That said, Swansea have made a habit of ending unbeaten runs on the road this season. Leeds made a blistering start to the season before falling to a 1-0 home defeat to the Swans at the end of August and Steve Cooper will hope for a similar performance to oversee victory at the Hawthorns.
Centre-back Mike van der Hoorn played a crucial role at the heart of the defence at Elland Road that late-August afternoon and supporters are hoping to see the Dutchman put in a similar shift in the Midlands. Indeed, van der Hoorn's WhoScored.com rating in the narrow victory (7.68) was better than any other Swansea player.
Up against the Championship's top scorers - West Brom have bagged a league high 36 goals this season at a rate of 1.89 per game - another fine showing in defence wouldn't go amiss. One of an der Hoorn's statistically-calculated WhoScored.com strengths is 'concentration' and this mental quality to the 27-year-old's game is likely to prove vital against a Baggies outfit that has developed no fewer than six WhoScored.com strengths, all of which are focused on attacking.
Therefore, and while it may not be pretty, a no nonsense approach to defending could be key to Swansea coming away from West Brom with a result. Indeed, only Joe Rodon (4.5) – who is currently injured - is averaging more clearances per game than van der Hoorn (4.1) of all Swansea players this season.
Cooper may have been appointed to maintain the Swansea ethos of possession-based football, but there are times where clearing the decks is the best approach to defending and having shipped the third fewest away goals (seven) in the Championship this season, the Swans boss will hope to keep it that way in one of their toughest games of the campaign.
Keeping Hal Robson-Kanu quiet is the primary port of call for Cooper and the Swansea defence. The ex-Wales international may have just five league goals to his name, but those have come in his last eight appearances. Having largely been used as an impact sub in the earlier weeks of the season, the 30-year-old has started each of West Brom's last four league matches - all of which the Baggies have won.
Only Matt Phillips (six) has scored more league goals than Robson-Kanu (five) of all West Brom players and if the latter is given the time and space to find the back of the net, then Swansea could be made to pay.
However, with 14 different scorers in the Championship this season, then the West Brom goals could come from any player and it means van der Hoorn and his defensive teammates need to remain focused for the full 90 minutes to extend their away unbeaten run, which currently stands at 11 matches.
Having upset the odds to defeat a title contender in Leeds earlier in the season, though, Swansea have the means to do the same here and bring West Brom's 16-match home unbeaten streak to an end.