WILL DYER (@w2Dyer) previews the final game of the Premier League weekend. How will England's Champions League heroes Leicester get on against another wily old Fox, Tony Pulis?
Leicester v West Brom | Sunday 16:30 | Sky Sports 1
Last season’s Premier League champions are starting to find their form. The Foxes have now lost just two of their last 11 games in regular time and those defeats came at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge.
At the King Power they are actually unbeaten in 90 minutes since losing 2-0 to Tottenham in the FA Cup way back in January and perhaps even more remarkably they haven’t lost at home in the league since the 5-2 reverse against Arsenal in September 2015. That’s an astonishing run that stretches a whopping 20 matches.
Since that defeat Leicester have posted a W13-D7-L0 record. This season it’s three wins and two draws. Based on these terrific stats and the fact that Leicester are hosting a side that sit 16th you’d expect this to be a straightforward win; that’s until you realise that it’s West Brom they are facing; the bane of many top sides.
The Baggies travelled to Leicester in March this year and frustrated them no-end. They had just 35% possession and faced 22 shots but still came away with a 2-2 draw.
West Brom are the ultimate specialists at this kind of fixture; they all but ended Spurs title hopes in late April and also have a strong record against Liverpool and Chelsea in recent seasons.
Tony Pulis was handed a one-year contract extension last month but rumours are that the ever-growing frustration from the fans is having an impact and that, consequentially, the extension could in fact be revoked.
Pulis is lauded by some pundits but I struggle to see why. The absolute dross style of play that he serves up week-in-week-out must be incredibly dull to watch. His lack of ambition means that many fans would rather be relegated than keep hold of their Premier League status and continue to be subjected to this.
Albion held a good standing after five games with the wins against Crystal Palace and West Ham but since then they’ve failed to win any of their next five league fixtures.
Against Man City last weekend they had just 30% of the ball and lost 4-0. This lead the fans to jibe their own team with an entertaining chant about their possession, or lack of it.
West Brom have little in the way of creative talent. James McClean is a capable player but one flawed by his attitude, unsurprising then that he misses out here through a suspension accrued by yellow cards. The rest of the midfield is mostly built up of battlers and bruisers.
The exceptions to the void of talent rule are Nacer Chadli and Solomon Rondon. The latter was their only saving grace last season and the big Venezuelan forward has already scored in both of their wins this season. He will have to lead the line here as Chadli is unavailable with a knee injury and Saido Berahino is “lacking match fitness”.
As a result of these injuries, Pulis might have to look to Hal Robson-Kanu and the exciting youngster Jonathan Leko. That’s not all bad as you would have expected the former to have featured more often in the starting line-up after his exploits with Wales in the summer.
Moving on, Leicester’s defense is much improved in recent games. Kasper Schmeichel of course has a big role to play in that so it’s unfortunate that the great Dane is out with a hand injury until December. Ron-Robert Zieler is hardly a bad replacement though, the ex-Hannover 96 keeper should have a big future in English football.
The fact that the Foxes haven’t conceded in 360 minutes of Champions League football should be celebrated. For a nation that’s struggled for form in European competition over the last few years it’s a significant achievement. The question is; can Albion succeed where their European counterparts could not?
As ever, the Baggies best chance of a goal is from set pieces but without McClean and Chadli I think that’s more prevalent than ever. Six of their 10 goals so far this season have come from dead ball situations whereas just two have been from open play, the lowest in the league.
Looking at shots data alone these would both be in the bottom six. Leicester average just 11.1 per-game and West Brom 10.7. Both also average less than 45% possession.
After reading those statistics and considering Tony Pulis dogged away approach you get the feeling this could be dull. I’ve got to side with Leicester based on their home form though.
The hosts are 4/5 and that makes little appeal with the draw a definite possibility. Beating West Brom heavily is incredibly unlikely however so it’s the Correct Score group market for me; Leicester to win 1-0 or 2-0 is 14/5 with BetVictor and that’ll do nicely.
Leicester v West Brom – Leicester City to win 1-0 or 2-0 (14/5 BetVictor)