Tottenham head to The Hawthorns on Saturday afternoon for a danger game against West Bromwich Albion. Their previous clash at the venue came in April this year and all but ended Spurs’ title challenge.
On that occasion, a first half Craig Dawson own goal was cancelled out by Dawson himself, who levelled things up late in the second half. Thus a deflated Spurs headed to Stamford Bridge the following week, officially giving Leicester the league in that spiteful clash.
A lot has changed since Apil 2016, however. One man brought on in the 89th minute that time around for Tottenham, Nacer Chadli, is now a guaranteed starter for the Baggies. The Belgian has managed 3 goals and 2 assists from his first 4 appearances at his new home, and will be desperate to become the next in a long line of ex-Spurs to score against his old club.
Chadli will be the focal point of West Brom’s counter-attacking forays forward. Where he was predominantly deployed on the left of the attacking midfield band at Tottenham, he now finds himself playing through the middle to greater effect. In fact, all 5 of his score involvements have come in the central position for the Baggies. On the rare occasion that he has either started or drifted left, his influence has waned. Much like his latter days at White Hart Lane.
With the likes of Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli playing centrally at Spurs, Chadli was perhaps rightly given little chance to shine through this part of the pitch. Yet the early signs would suggest that he may be more suited to the central role than as an inverted winger from either the right or left. Whilst briefly and unsuccessfully tried as a striker at Spurs in the absence of a resting Harry Kane, this season he has proven adept both in-behind or playing off the striker; this has been Salomon Rondon almost exclusively.
The dual threat of Rondon and Chadli have netted 6 of Albion’s 8 Premier League goals this season, and already they seem to have formed a strong working relationship. Both of Chadli’s assists came by playing in the Venezuelan during West Brom’s 4-2 come from behind victory over West Ham. Rondon must surely be enjoying the improvement in service quality his new teammate provides.
The extra responsibility and importance to his side has thus far added a new dimension to Chadli’s game. Where he was at best an occasional starter, and at worst a little-utilised squad player for Spurs, he is now the go-to man for Tony Pulis. Chadli has always been a quality footballer and capable of a goal, but was just not the perfect fit for the system that Mauricio Pochettino developed during the last 2-3 seasons. And his quality, perhaps being just below that of a guaranteed starter for a top-4 aspiring club, meant that he was never given an opportunity in the role to which he suddenly appears most suited.
Whilst Chadli and Rondon provide the major threat, James McLean on the left hand side of attacking midfield is also capable of delivering threatening crosses and balls into the box. Though Spurs are yet to concede from open play this season, in recent years it has been exactly these type of deliveries into the penalty area that have proved an area of weakness. And with Chadli’s heading abilities also strong, this is clearly something for fellow Belgians Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld to be wary of.
Alderweireld currently appears the more comfortable of the two under the long and high balls, and so it would not surprise to see Chadli or Rondon attempt to isolate Vertonghen to win a headed attempt at goal, or even draw a penalty. Craig Dawson’s equaliser in this fixture in April came from a corner and successful leap over Eric Dier.
Spurs will back themselves to dominate possession and play their style despite being away from home. They will also back themselves to have Chadli and Rondon covered in open play, much like they have managed against perceived stronger opposition so far this season. Yet the counter-attacking threat is real, and the threat from free kicks and corners is real for West Brom too. If Spurs do not take their opportunities in front of goal then there is certainly the chance for a sting in the tail at the other end.
The Baggies also have a rather miserly defence, having conceded only 7 goals in 7 games in 2016/17 (the same number as Arsenal and Manchester City). The two encounters between these two sides ended 1-1 last season. Spurs’ superior quality and maniacal pressure should be enough to get the points. Yet it would not surprise to see a similar result this time around if they are unable to replicate the brutal intensity that saw them overpower Man City.