Burnley head to the Hawthorns to face Tony Pulis’ West Bromwich Albion on Monday evening, with the Baggies the latest obstacle for the Clarets to face on their travels as they seek to end their away day hoodoo.
Sean Dyche’s side have taken just a single point from four away games this season – albeit they have played Chelsea, Leicester City, Southampton and Manchester United on the road – but head to the Midlands in buoyant mood following a recent good run of form, and may see Monday’s trip as perhaps their most realistic opportunity yet to secure all three points away from Turf Moor.
If they are to succeed, then they must break down an archetypal Pulis defence: tall, powerful and resolute. Baggies fans may not be entirely enamoured with the way in which the 58-year-old Welshman instructs his teams to play, but at best it can be effective, and it is that level of efficiency that they will be striving for when the Clarets come to town.
If West Brom are to improve on their woeful run home record – with just one win at the Hawthorns from nine games, stretching back to last season – then set-pieces seem their most likely outlet. Exactly half of their 12 goals so far have come from corners and free-kicks, with three of those coming at home. Their knack of scoring set-piece goals is perhaps the reason why the Baggies have yet to score from outside the area this season.
Unsurprisingly, West Brom’s defence has been largely impressive: only Middlesbrough (12) can boast a fewer amount of goals conceded for a bottom half side than Pulis’ men, with 15. Their defensive form away from home has been magnificent where, despite recording just one clean sheet, they have conceded just six goals – the third best rate in the division.
Offensively, Pulis took great strides into rectifying their shortcomings during the summer transfer window, with Nacer Chadli, Matty Phillips and Hal Robson-Kanu all arriving. The former's addition has been particularly shrewd, playing a part in half of West Brom’s goals this season with four strikes of his own and two assists. Striker Salomon Rondon has also chipped in with three goals and an assist, and remains a potent threat for the Clarets to watch out for.
West Brom have also played the highest amount of long passes in the league, with 24.5% of their efforts going direct. With the 6ft 2” Rondon capable of playing as a target man and bringing others into play, the Baggies can transition from defence into attack in a short space of time.
As aforementioned, West Brom’s home form is poor. Their only clean sheet from nine home games – and one of only two both home and away this season – came against Boro, in a tepid 0-0 draw. Their failure to score in two of their games at the Hawthorns is also a joint-highest league amount.
Their reliance on Chadli and Rondon can often leave the Baggies without a viable plan B if things begin to go awry, too. Although their set-piece threat can never be underestimated, if Burnley can maintain their shape and discipline to avoid conceding free-kicks in dangerous areas, then there is the potential for frustration at the Hawthorns.
Supporters will be similarly vexed at a lack of competency in seeing out wins. They saw a 1-0 lead against Everton dissolve into nothing, while leads against Sunderland and Tottenham Hotspur have been wiped out in the final 10 minutes for draws. The fact that the average age of their defence in both games was 29.5 suggests that fresher, more youthful legs could have ground out those wins when older legs could not.
But perhaps West Brom’s biggest bugbear is a stark lack of consistency, which is a trait that explains their constant entrenchment in the lower reaches of the league. A 1-0 win at Crystal Palace on the opening day was maybe something of a surprise result; a 0-0 draw at home to newly-promoted Boro soon followed; a 4-2 win over West Ham United was followed by draws against then-winless sides, Stoke City and Sunderland.
Even their last two results – a 4-0 home reverse against an out-of-sorts Manchester City and a 2-1 victory over champions Leicester (who were previously unbeaten at home) – show Pulis is struggling to find a level of consistency in tactics and personnel at the Hawthorns. Quite what will happen against Burnley on Monday remains equally as unpredictable.