West Brom vs Burnley predictions: Promotion hopefuls set for West Midlands battle
Two pre-season promotion favourites clash at The Hawthorns on Friday but while Burnley have lived up to their billing to sit third in the Championship, West Brom have suffered a frustrating start to sit uncomfortably in mid-table.
Of course, early league positions rarely tell the whole story and the Baggies have deserved far more than eight points from seven outings.
However, manager Steve Bruce will know that The Hawthorns' hot-seat is an unforgiving place and if he is to avoid becoming the 17th manager in 11 years to walk away from Halfords Lane clutching his P45, then he quickly needs the promising performances to turn into points.
West Brom vs Burnley (Friday, 8pm)
West Brom have problems in defence after Semi Ajayi went down with what looked like a serious knee injury away at Wigan on Tuesday.
He is joined on the sidelines by Kean Bryan, who remains some weeks off a return as he continues his rehabilitation from a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament.
In their absence, Bruce has Kyle Bartley and Dara O’Shea as the Baggies’ only fit and available experienced centre-backs.
At the other end of the pitch, centre-forward Daryl Dike is out for a number of weeks and Callum Robinson is unlikely to be selected due to a potential transfer away from the club.
However, Brandon Thomas-Asante — signed on Wednesday having scored five goals in seven appearances for League Two Salford — could come straight into the squad.
Burnley manager Vincent Kompany is without long-term absentee Ashley Westwood, while midfielder Scott Twine and centre-back Kevin Long are again likely to miss out.
Goalkeeper Arijanet Muric had to come off against Millwall on Tuesday and while his injury is not expected to be serious, he is unlikely to return for Friday. Second-choice keeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell looks set to step up for his second start this season.
Left-back Ian Maatsen returns to the squad having completed a three-match suspension.
Only Sheffield United have conceded fewer shots in the Championship than West Brom but while the Blades have conceded just five goals — the joint-second fewest in the division — only eight teams have conceded more than the Baggies’ nine.
Watford even managed to score from their own half against West Brom, helping the Hornets claim a 1-1 draw in a match in which they had only one other shot on target, while Bruce’s men had eight and dominated with 69% possession.
That match set a frustrating pattern for the Baggies, who have failed to convert matches they have controlled.
Bruce’s men have claimed more possession than their opponents in every match since their opening day draw at Middlesbrough, dominating two-thirds or more of the ball in four of those six games.
They have also taken more shots than their opponents in five of their last six games but have won only one league match, drawing five and losing one.
Bruce will hope his luck changes against a Burnley side who have failed to score on three of their last four trips to the Hawthorns and have won only one of their last 13 visits, losing nine.
This looks an intriguing match-up between two passing teams who each like to dominate possession and play in their opponents’ half.
However, it could transpire that the pair cancel each other out as Kompany was right to say that Burnley should not get carried away by a run of three successive victories as everything went right when routing Wigan 5-1.
They only just edged possession and took only eight shots to Wigan’s 18 — and his side managed just one shot on target against League One Shrewsbury in the Carabao Cup but won 1-0.
Prior to that, the Clarets had drawn with middling trio Blackpool, Hull and Luton while losing to Watford, so Friday night’s trip should be a good test of how far Burnley really have progressed under Kompany.
And while there are legitimate concerns over West Brom’s finishing — Karlan Grant, John Swift and Jed Wallace are the only Baggies players with more than one goal — Bruce’s side are clearly better than results suggest.
But they are hard to trust while confidence in front of goal remains low, so the Baggies’ manager may be forced to settle for yet another draw.