Baggies must overcome unwanted records to beat Fulham

Posted by Matthew Evans

Ian Walton/Getty ImagesSomen Tchoyi's equalizer at Fulham during the 2011-12 season is the only time that West Brom have picked up a result in seven Premier League visits to Craven Cottage.

West Brom travel to Craven Cottage on Saturday still looking for their first Premier League win of the season, but to do so they will have to overcome a couple of unwanted records that they have picked up.

Every team has bogey sides and one of the teams Albion always seem to struggle against is Fulham, particularly away from home. In the seven Premier League games West Brom have played at Craven Cottage, they have managed to pick up only one point which came through a late Somen Tchoyi equaliser during the 2011-12 season under Roy Hodgson.

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In those seven games, Albion have scored twice and conceded 19 goals, including a 6-1 hammering in the 2005-06 season under Bryan Robson. You have to go back to the 1967-68 season to find West Brom's last away win against Fulham, club legends Tony Brown and Jeff Astle the goal-scorers.

Last season was no different, Fulham winning 3-0 with Peter Odemwingie being sent off for West Brom and Dimitar Berbatov scoring twice on his debut. Berbatov was also superb for Fulham when they won 2-1 at the Hawthorns on New Year's Day to complete a double over West Brom.

Berbatov is a player who Albion always seem to struggle to defend against, as demonstrated by the three goals he scored against The Baggies in two games, while he also created the winner at the Hawthorns. Berbatov almost always drops deep to receive the ball, in between the defence and the midfield, but West Brom can never deal with that movement; Michu had similar success for Swansea in West Brom's previous game.

The issue seems to stem from mis-communication between the centre backs and the centre midfielders. It seems that Gareth McAuley and Jonas Olsson don't want to rush out of position to man mark Berbatov, as that would leave space in behind for someone like Darren Bent to exploit. But then Claudio Yacob and Youssouff Mulumbu in the defensive midfield positions fail to stay tight to Berbatov and get caught the wrong side of him.

This then allows Berbatov, or players of his ilk, the opportunity to run at the central defenders, either fashioning a chance for himself, a team-mate or getting fouled by Yacob or Mulumbu after they let Berbatov get goal-side of them. For West Brom to have any chance of success at Fulham, it is imperative that either Yacob or Mulumbu is always around to keep tabs on Berbatov, not allowing him the time and freedom he had in Albion's two games with Fulham last season.

In addition to this, this game comes at a bad time for Albion, after an international break. Last season, West Brom only managed to win one game after an international break compared to four losses, with the 3-0 reverse at Fulham being one of these games.

It is one of the disadvantages of Albion having a multi-national squad, as they have players flying away to all parts of the globe and some returning later than others, often carrying injuries. This game is particularly difficult as it is the first since Deadline Day, where West Brom brought in three players to strengthen their squad.

Only one of these, Stephane Sessegnon, has been away on international duty, but many of the players at the club were away on international duty, which meant there has been very little time for Steve Clarke to implement Victor Anichebe and Morgan Amalfitano into the group. In an ideal word, I expect Clarke would have liked to pick a tried and trusted team for this weekend's game, but injuries look set to force his hand in some cases.

James Morrison is a doubt for the game with a groin injury -- he also missed Scotland's two World Cup qualifiers. This should mean a debut for at least one of Sessegnon or Amalfitano in the most advanced midfield role if Clarke goes with a 4-2-3-1. Both could make their debuts from the start as I don't expect to see Shane Long employed out wide again, but Clarke does have options in that area now, particularly with the form of young Saido Berahino.

The youngster has been one of few positives to emerge from Albion's start to the season. Berahino scored a hat trick against Newport from a wide forward position and has continued his run of scoring with the England U21s, scoring against both Moldova and Finland. With form like that, it may prove tough for Clarke to leave him out for this game.

In the longer term, Clarke and the club are left with somewhat of a dilemma regarding Berahino's situation. While he may start on Saturday, he may find his path to the first team a bit more difficult when the rest of the squad get up to full fitness, especially with the number of additions Albion made in the forward areas this summer.

It will then have to be decided whether Clarke feels Berahino is better than some of his options or if his opportunities will be limited. The youngster needs game-time, whether that be at Albion or with another club. If Clarke feels Berahino isn't quite ready, then I'd expect Berahino to be loaned out to a Championship club, probably up until the January transfer window. This would allow The Baggies to review the situation, particularly as one or two players could be moved on in that window.


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