West Bromwich Albion host Stoke City at the Hawthorns on Saturday afternoon in what is bound to be an intriguing contest between two teams currently sitting in the top half of the table.
The game itself will be only half of an attraction that will see multiple interlinking narratives come to a head in what is always a heated “midlands derby”.
Firstly, Saido Berahino returns to West Bromwich Albion for the first time just over two weeks after securing a £12,000,000 transfer to Stoke City. The controversial forward had been frozen out of the first-team picture at The Hawthorns by Tony Pulis who criticised the 23-year-olds mentality, attitude and fitness levels after the player made it clear that he was determined to leave. It is more than likely that Berahino will receive a hostile reception from the locals when, or if, he takes to the field on Saturday whilst there will be plenty of Stoke supporters who will have put a bet on the striker scoring on his return to his former club.
Secondly, Mark Hughes has yet to secure a win against former Stoke City manager Tony Pulis since the Welshman took up residence at West Brom in 2015. The Baggies have won three and drawn one of the four fixtures between the two teams in the previous two seasons and it would appear that Pulis is starting to develop something of a hoodoo over his former employees in The Potteries. Hughes will undoubtedly be keen to claim a victory against the man who he replaced at Stoke back in the summer of 2013.
Regardless of the result on Saturday there will certainly be plenty of headlines coming out of this contest.
West Bromwich Albion are ticking along nicely this season and look certainties to secure a top-ten finish under the guidance of Tony Pulis. The Baggies have picked up 10 points from the last 15 available and have a formidable record on home soil having won four of their previous five Premier League fixtures at The Hawthorns. They did suffer a surprise defeat at the hands of Championship side Derby County in the third round of the FA Cup at the start of January but that remains one of only a few blots on their copybook so far this campaign.
Stoke City have successfully recovered from a poor start to the season and have risen up the table to take up their usual position just inside the top ten. They have lost just four of their previous 18 Premier League fixtures and are currently unbeaten in the top flight since the turn of the year, although they did suffer an early exit from the FA Cup after a third round defeat against Wolverhampton Wanderers. However, The Potters have failed to beat The Baggies in their previous four meetings.
West Bromwich Albion have almost a clean bill of health but are likely to be without central defender Jonny Evans on Saturday. The former Manchester United player has missed the last three Premier League fixtures with a calf problem so Tony Pulis is expected to name an unchanged team from the one that started against Middlesbrough in midweek. Marc Wilson is also unlikely to feature after joining from Bournemouth last week due to a slight hamstring strain.
Stoke City are still without first-choice goalkeeper Jack Butland who will miss the remainder of the season with an ongoing ankle injury with Stephen Ireland (leg) and Geoff Cameron (knee) also long-term absentees. Jonathan Walters is unlikely to feature due to a knee issue whilst Ramadan Sobhi is still competing in the African Cup of Nations with Egypt. Glen Johnson and Xherdan Shaqiri both missed the midweek draw against Everton with slight knocks and may be unavailable again on Saturday whilst Wilfried Bony and Mame Biram Diouf could both be in including in the match day squad after returning from international duty.
Key Player: Peter Crouch
Whilst much of the attention on Saturday is likely to be focused on Saido Berahino on his return to The Hawthorns it is a different Stoke City striker that is likely to offer the most prominent goal threat for the visitors. Peter Crouch is experiencing something of a renaissance and the 36-year-old striker is bang in form having scored four goals in his previous five Premier League appearances since breaking into the first team during the Christmas period. The veteran forward will also have his confidence boosted after he scored his 100th goal in top flight football against Everton in mid-week, joining a prestigious list of goal scorers that include the likes of Alan Shearer, Ian Wright and many more. Don’t be surprised if Crouch increases his goal tally on Saturday afternoon.
- Stoke City won their first five Premier League fixtures at The Hawthorns after securing promotion in 2008 but have suffered defeats in their previous two visits.
- Tony Pulis has been on the losing side only once as a manager in 12 Premier League contests between West Bromwich Albion and Stoke City.
- West Bromwich Albion are the only Premier League team yet to have an English player score.
- Only one other Premier League team (Swansea City) have picked up less yellow cards than Stoke City this season (15).
- West Bromwich Albion have scored 21 Premier League goals at The Hawthorns this season, one more than they managed on home soil in the entire 2015/16 campaign.
Both teams go into this fixture in good form and seemingly set to finish in the top-ten. West Bromwich Albion have a formidable record at The Hawthorns whilst Tony Pulis has yet to suffer a defeat against his former club whilst in charge of The Baggies. However, The Potters will be boosted by the signing of Saido Berahino and you sense that the controversial striker is almost destined to score on his first return to West Brom after departing just two weeks ago. A draw is probably the most likely outcome.
Predicted Score: West Bromwich Albion 1, Stoke City 1