West Brom v Manchester City
Saturday October 28, 15:00
Baggies finding evolution a hard task
Having further established West Bromwich Albion as a solid force in the Premier League (they finished tenth last season, and 14th the campaign before, but were well clear of the dropzone), Tony Pulis is now trying to take the Baggies to the next level. The Welshman's strengths as a manager have always been good organisation and man-management, but now he wants to show that his teams can play with a bit more flair and consistently open up defences.
The problem with such lofty ambitions is that they can lead to a decline in what made you successful in the first place. As Atletico Madrid found for some of last season, playing in a more open fashion can lead to defensive issues, as you try to judge how adventurous to be. Albion only leaked 51 goals in the Premier League last season (1.34 goals per game), but despite a strong start to this campaign, they have started to spring a few leaks. WBA haven't kept a clean sheet in any of their last five games, and they've only managed one shut-out in their last nine outings.
Albion haven't won a game since August, and although there are few whispers about Pulis' position, he needs to turn things around soon. It doesn't help his case that defender Craig Dawson is out for the next two months, after colliding with a team-mate during Sofiane Boufal's incredible run that led to the winner in last weekend's game at St. Mary's.
Relentless City still in the hunt for four trophies
Championship leaders Wolves nearly succeeded where so many have failed this season, as they took Manchester City all the way to penalties in the Carabao Cup on Tuesday. Although City made significant changes, Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and Bernardo Silva were all involved at some stage of the tie. City eventually went through on spot-kicks after a goalless draw.
It means City have now won their last 12 games in all competitions, and a quadruple is still on. Of course, we were waxing lyrical about Guardiola's City at the start of last season before the wheels came off, but it's hard to argue that this squad hasn't developed impressively in the intervening period.
All eyes will be on Aguero, who can become the club's all-time leading goalscorer if he finds the net against Albion. Like Samuel Eto'o at Barcelona and Robert Lewandowski at Bayern, Aguero has flourished under the Catalan despite the suggestion the coach doesn't favour a traditional "number nine". The Argentinian has already rattled in seven league goals this term, and in the past three campaign he netted 26, 24 and 20 goals.
The Opta stats show that City have every reason to be confident, having won their last 11 Premier League games against West Brom, and they have already won 2-1 at the Hawthorns this season in the Carabao Cup. That game included a goal from Leroy Sane that wrapped up a 52-pass move that involved every City player at least twice.
Hard to see ailing Albion lasting the pace
City have won 3-0 and 4-0 on their last two league visits to West Brom, and I suspect they'll win comfortably again. Albion have won just two of their last 18 Premier League games, and their defence is starting to look questionable against top opposition. I'll happily back the visitors -1.5 on the Asian Handicap at 1.86, as the outright price of 1.28 is too short to be of interest.
Goals galore if City hit top gear
West Brom have conceded at least twice in four of their last six games, while Guardiola's side have scored three goals or more on six occasions already this term. It's not beyond the realms of possibility that Albion could grab a goal (they remain a threat at set plays), so I like the look of backing Over 3.5 Goals at 2.36.
Aguero to make history?
You can back Aguero to score a record-setting goal at 1.70, and if you fancy him to score first, he can be backed at 3.55.
Back Over 3.5 Goals at 2.36
Back Manchester City -1.5 on the Asian Handicap at 1.86