It’s been a brilliant start to the season for West Brom and, other than Leeds, they seem to be the team to be at the moment. How would you summarise the season so far?
It’s been better than anyone could have anticipated, to be honest with you. There was a real need to bounce back after the play-off defeat last season and re-build. They needed to suitably replace Darren Moore because he wasn’t succeeded when he was sacked back in March; Jimmy Shan did a good job but, long-term, wasn’t the option Albion needed to get back up. They went for, on reflection, someone who they were very, very fortunate to get in Slaven Bilic. Everything that I’ve had to do with him as a local journalist in the six months or so that he’s had the job just tells me that he’s a Premier League manager in every way: As a personality, as a coach, as someone that recognises when things need to be changed in games. He’s amazing with his substitutions.
One defeat in 22 is a staggering return and I think it’s something like 65 years since they’ve had a start to the season as good as this, so that tells you that pretty much every fan alive is experiencing something really special. The recruitment has been amazing as well; they’ve spent money very wisely and it’s all just bearing fruit.
How much have things changed behind the scenes since the Croatian took charge?
As a man he’s very different to Moore, who was a very gracious man but probably didn’t just have that same aura that Bilic does. He’s brought his own backroom staff in, including Julian Dicks, who he knows from West Ham, but he’s also brought another couple of Croatian guys in, one of whom was with him at his last job in Saudi Arabia. If you go back to his predecessors like Alan Pardew, Tony Pulis, Alan Irvine, Steve Clarke, Roy Hodgson, it’s a long time since Albion have had a manager with this charisma. You pay attention to every word he says and he’s really just captured the imagination of the fanbase as well.
In the summer, Romaine Sawyers left Brentford to return to his boyhood club after six years away – how much of an impact has he made this term?
He’s been a class act and has played every minute bar one game, which he was suspended for. He’s struck up a really good relationship with Jake Livermore in midfield and it’s one of those pairings where they really complement each other perfectly. Livermore has had a lot of different partners since he’s been at the club, but not one has been like Sawyers. Everyone will talk about Matheus Pereira and Grady Diangana but the way Sawyers and Livermore play the game, they put the ball on a plate for their team-mates a lot of the time. He’s been up and at them every single game and, of course, as a person he’s brilliant around the place.
Who should Brentford fans be looking out for this weekend at The Hawthorns?
Well Diangana is going to be missing as he’s been ruled out until the New Year with injury, so there’s no danger of him playing. But Pereira, for my money, is the best player in the Championship. He’s been a joy to watch and during the last home game against Swansea, he scored one and also got three assists in a 5-1 win, which was probably one of the best individual displays I’ve ever seen. He plays as a No 10 behind Charlie Austin or Hal Robson-Kanu and if you manage to stop him, you’ve done half the job. There is then Austin himself, who has scored six in his last five and is in red hot form.
How are West Brom likely to set up on Saturday?
It’ll be a 4-2-3-1. Sam Johnstone will be in goal, but the back four is up for debate. The centre-backs will be Kyle Bartley and Semi Ajayi, with Conor Townsend at left-back, but he struggled on Saturday against Birmingham and I wonder if Bilic might take him out and bring Darnell Furlong in. If that is the case, Nathan Ferguson will move over to left-back and Furlong will play right-back. In midfield, Sawyers and Livermore are both fit and ready to go and then there’s another decision to be made at the front end of the pitch. Pereira will play, with Matt Phillips on the right-hand side and then it will either be Kyle Edwards or Filip Krovinovic and if he plays over Edwards, Pereira will play on the wing. Up front you’ve got Austin, who is in great form but hasn’t started much recently, behind Robson-Kanu in the pecking order.
What’s your score prediction?
I’m a little bit nervous about this, both as a fan and an Albion writer! Albion are unbeaten at home this season, but I think this is as strong a test as they are going to have, to be honest, because I’ve seen Brentford a number of times this season and, as usual, I’ve been very impressed by their ability to regenerate despite having sold players over the years. The football is very, very good and for that reason, I think they could match Albion. The lack of Diangana being there means I’m thinking that this might be a 1-1 draw.
Advanced sales end at 2pm this afternoon while tickets will be available on matchday, cash only, from the kiosk next to the away turnstiles block: