Preston v West Brom - Match preview

We’re just seven games into the new season.

Nathan Byrne of Derby County attempts to block a cross (Photo by Adam Fradgley/West Bromwich Albion FC via Getty Images).
Nathan Byrne of Derby County attempts to block a cross (Photo by Adam Fradgley/West Bromwich Albion FC via Getty Images).

But what a fascinating challenge the Championship is proving to be for Albion and Valerien Ismael.

Pressing high and playing with aggression and intensity, the Baggies impressed in their first four outings of the season.

But in the last three games it’s been a different story with their opponents all working out how to play against and minimise their threat.

How do you stop Albion from pressing and winning the ball high?

It’s actually quite simple, you treat the ball like a hot potato and get it up field as soon as possible.

Peterborough were the first team to do it, then Millwall – with the Baggies creating very little in both those games.

And for 45 minutes against Derby on Tuesday, it was the same again.

But then things changed.

Following the draw with Millwall, Ismael said his side needs to be more adaptable when they come up against teams who sit deep and look to frustrate.

What he meant by that was he needed his team to play with a bit more composure, to retain possession more and be a bit more measured with their passing.

Under Ismael, Albion are always going to play what the Frenchman calls ‘vertical’ football.

There is no Plan B. But there are variants to Plan A.

And that is what we saw in the second half against Derby – with the Baggies creating multiple clear-cut chances and, in truth, doing everything but score.

“The boss gave us a kick up the backside at half-time,” revealed Adam Reach when asked what changed in the Derby game.

“He said to have a bit more composure on the ball.

“I think we looked forward a little bit too early in the first half.

“And then in the second half, there were opportunities when people put their foot on the ball and we put a few passes together.

“We are good players here. We are more than capable of controlling a game, putting together passing sequences and getting the ball wide.

“We did that a lot better in the second half.

“We kept the pressure on when it came out, we won the second balls, we kept it alive whereas maybe in the first half we didn’t do that.

“The crowd really got behind us, they sensed we had upped the intensity.

“Overall the second half was really good, we just didn’t find the goal.

“But if we go to Preston and play like we did in the second half and how we are capable of – we will come away with three points, no doubt.”

That is now the challenge for Albion as they head to Deepdale.

Boss Ismael said after the Derby game he now expects teams to follow a similar model and sit back and try and frustrate his side.

“They start with a point and they are fighting to hold on it,” he said.

Frankie McAvoy’s Preston will surely try and do the same thing.

In the second half against Derby, though, Albion looked to have found the formula to overcome that.

Now they have to turn that formula into goals and wins.

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