West Bromwich Albion 4 - Burnley 0
Another enjoyable performance from Tony Pulis's free-flowing entertainers. Or something like that. I thought we picked up where we left off from the 2nd half against Man City & the Leicester game.
We started by pressing high and playing at a high tempo and got a crucial early goal that killed Burnley's plan. From then on in Burnley didn't really know what to do - they tried passing it out from the back but we pressed them high and then lost the ball or went backwards, they went long and we gobbled it up, they tried to pass it through us and we retreated quite deeply before breaking with speed (Morrison, Phillips) and/or quality (Brunt).
Burnley somewhat surprisingly sat off us a fair bit when we had the ball so it was quite easy for us to move up the pitch and keep it. I thought it was promising that once again when we did attack we got real numbers into the box. 3 goals came from 3 goalscorers from straightforward crosses and us having enough players in there to benefit from it.
It could and probably should've been more. Every player did what was asked of them.
Clearly the player behind the transformation is Morrison, back in his most effective position with a hard running role in attacking midfield. He can tackle, he can nick the ball and scurry away 20 or 30 yards from deep, he can pick a pass, speed it up and slow it down, he has goal threat and his energy and engine gives Rondon the reassurance that if he gets anything onto our long passes there is a chance Mozza will be up around him snapping away at 2nd balls or lay-offs.
It's probably even fair to say that if/when Chadli comes back into the team it cannot be at the expense of Mozza playing this role because despite his technical brilliance and ruthless quality in front of goal, Chadli cannot offer the same energy or get the whole team going in the same way. A nice problem to have.
In the end we were dominant verging on arrogant - there was very much an attitude of 'we're not getting beaten by these'.
Let's hope we carry this on into the Hull and Watford games.
Who knows where the time (in possession) goes?
(with apologies to Sandy Denny for mangling her song title)
In billing this one as the Clash of the Counter-Attackers, it's quite possible that the TV pundits might have missed the fact that with both sides having got to comfortable mid-table positions whilst also being the two bottom sides in terms of average possession stats - Burnley 35.88%, the Albion just edging them with 35.90% - there was a possibility that over 20% of this game might see neither side with possession of the ball: how could that happen though?
Chadli's continued injury removed the need to think about how to bring him back into a side that beat the champions in the previous game, although in his pre-match spiel, our manager bemoaned the fact that we might find it hard "to open the door", at home, without him, however, against a Burnley side that had only mustered four shots on target away from home so far, Albion lined up with the same starting eleven starting in the same positions - Phillips on the left, Brunt on the right and Morrison through the middle, in the three behind Rondon - not that the manager needed to have been worried about needing Chadli for this one in the end.
The actual positions taken up by that three would prove to be incredibly fluid throughout the game, with Morrison appearing, twice, in the right wing slot, within the first five minutes. On the first of those two occasions he would take a ball from Brunt, pull it back behind Phillips, who'd come to the near post ahead of Rondon, only to see the ball get end up with Phillips, as a Burnley defender tried to intercept it. It took Phillips just two touches to turn from back to goal to front on and clear enough of his marker to smash it into the roof of the net from the six-yard box line. On the second of those occasions, a Burnley player would clear Morrison's cross, but only to Brunt on the edge of the 18-yard box he hit his first time shot into the ground and it merely looped through to the keeper.
Burnley would have the better of the possession for the next ten minutes but would only create one good chance, Albion pushing out but leaving a couple of players unmarked, although Hendrick's chip over Foster would drift off-target. At the end of that ten minutes though, Brunt would chest a misplaced pass down on the edge of his own box, shift centrally before floating a ball into Rondon, back to goal, up in the inside left channel, and he would also chest it down before feeding Morrison coming up on the right. With the defender between him and the goal backing off for fear of Morrison playing Rondon back in, Morrison would run free to the edge of the penalty area where he would side-foot a curled effort along the ground that evaded the diving keeper to roll just inside the post: a classic counter attack.
Albion could have been three up five minutes later when Burnley's goalie passed straight to Morrison, but this time, as he reached the edge of the box with just the goalie to beat, a defender catching up with him would do enough to prevent him getting a shot off, not that that would be Albion's last attempt of a ten minute spell where they pushed high up, with Rondon blasting over and then bringing a fine, full-length, fingertip save out of Heaton with a much more cultured effort.
It was starting to look as though Burnley would reach the break at only two down but with ten minutes to go, Albion would break up another attack resulting in Morrison feeding Phillips out on the left who also had Fletcher close by. As Phillips advanced into the box, Fletcher donned his cloak of invisibility and ghosted his way to the far post, where he'd regain visibility, much to the surprise of four ball-watching Burnley defenders, but also as the perfect unmarked target for Phillips's beautifully stood up chip. From one-yard out, the captain would simply steer the ball into the net for a three-nil half-time lead, and not a set-piece goal amongst them!
Given its Clash of the Counter-Attackers billing, you might have expected Albion to have loads of opportunity to hit a Burnley side, now chasing the game from three-down, on the break, but with Burnley not seemingly doing much attacking, Albion's fourth would come at the end of a number of short passes down the left that would end with Nyom, on the by-line, pulling the ball back (and with left foot too!) to Rondon whose shot would go in via two deflections, not that either took the ball away from a static keeper who didn't appear to have any idea where the ball was going, to start with.
The remaining 25 minutes would see Albion in cruise control mode, all the way to the final whistle that, by virtue of Burnley's 55% possession would, by my reckoning, see Albion drop to the bottom of the average possession rankings (dropping to 36.65% whilst Burnley advanced to 37.47%) on the back of one of the most comfortable four-nil wins you will ever see, and what's more, a win that moved them above their opponents and up into ninth.
To end by echo-ing Sandy Denny again: Who knows where Nacer Chadli now goes?!
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