Steve Clarke surprised many on Saturday when he paired Shane Long and Romelu Lukaku up front of the first time in an unconventional 4-4-2 formation against Wigan. After Albion had brushed aside Southampton with relatively ease the Monday night before, many Baggies fans expected an unchanged side against the Latics.
Albion struggled last season when tasked with playing a traditional four across the middle and two centre forwards. At the time we didn’t have the midfield rigidity to compete with only four players in the centre of the park. Long and Odemwingie also played together like strangers do on a Sunday morning at times.
But this season is different. The arrival of Claudio Yacob means Youssouf Mulumbu doesn’t have to worry about covering his midfielder partner. While Yacob is happy to support the attack when necessary, he understands what his role is in the side. Lukaku and Long are similar players who don’t mind harassing defenders and are willing to run into the channels to drag defenders away from their preferred positions.
Clarke was savvy enough to realise that Albion’s preferred 4-5-1 formation would be exposed by Wigan’s three man defence and provide the hosts with the springboard to mount attack after attack. Long will work his socks off all night, but he was always going to struggle to defend against three ball-playing defenders.
The switch worked perfectly. Clarke guided Albion to their first away victory of the season with a solid 2-1 victory. Goals from the head of James Morrison and the boot of Gary Caldwell cemented Albion’s place in the top five and moved the Baggies on an impressive 20 points from just 11 games.
The win was even more impressive when you consider that Albion started the game without their two stand-out players against Southampton. Clarke was brave enough to drop Zoltan Gera and Peter Odemwingie from the starting line-up. The decision showed Clarke is ruthless enough to drop in-form players at the risk of outside criticism for the good of the team.
It’ll be interesting to see how the Scot decides to line-up his troops against his former employees this Saturday. Chelsea pose a different set of problems to Wigan and the former Blues’ assistant will pit his wits for the first time against old Albion manager Roberto Di Matteo.
Let’s hope for a similar result to the one we had last season.
COME ON YOU BAGGIES
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