West Brom's improved attack likely to be sacrificed vs. Leicester
West Brom produced their best home performance of the season to beat Crystal Palace 3-2 and moved to 35 points, 11 clear of the relegation zone with just 11 games left to play this season.
While the result helped eased any pressure or worry West Brom had about being drawn into a relegation battle, it was the manner of the victory that was most pleasing. Tony Pulis' side played with more attacking intent than they have done all season, pressing high up the pitch and producing a level of quality in the final third that has deserted them at crucial times this season.
A lot of West Brom's success against Palace came through winning the midfield battle, which is where Pulis' selections deserve some credit. Craig Gardner was used on the left-hand side in an attempt to support Chris Brunt in nullifying the threat of Wilfried Zaha. Not only did Gardner provide capable support for first Brunt and then James Chester, he also contributed more going forward than Pulis would have expected. Gardner got West Brom's opener with a far post tap-in and then produced a superb delivery from a wide free kick for Craig Dawson's header that gave West Brom a 2-0 lead.
In the middle of the park, Claudio Yacob and Darren Fletcher were totally dominant. Yacob broke up play with regularity while Fletcher was constantly leading the side's pressing, keeping Yohan Cabaye quiet throughout. Their passing was also much improved on recent weeks as they were the constant origin for West Brom's best attacking moves.
With the midfield winning the ball higher up the pitch, Salomon Rondon and Saido Berahino received a quantity and quality of service that has been rare this season, and looking all the better for it. Rondon had his best game in a West Brom shirt, showing that if he is given the ball to feet or to chase into the channels rather than aimless punts at head height, he is more than capable of leading their line in the Premier League.
The Venezuelan international caused plenty of problems for Palace's back four, which in turn created space for Berahino to operate. He was another who thrived in the more attacking outset. The build-up play for his goal was fantastic but the finish from the England U-21 forward showed just why the club were desperate to keep a hold of him despite all the disruption of the past two transfer windows. Berahino is the only player with the technical ability to finish off the sweeping team move that ended with Stephane Sessegnon's superb lofted pass being cushioned home on the volley. Berahino showed last season he can produce that on a regular basis and Pulis knows having the striker fit and firing could help launch a late push for a top half finish.
One negative from Saturday's win was Brunt picking up what looked like a serious knee injury, which gives Pulis a selection dilemma ahead of Tuesday's game with Leicester.
Jonny Evans could return from injury at the King Power stadium and ordinarily he'd fill in at left back. However, Jonas Olsson's uncertain display against Crystal Palace means Pulis may want to restore Evans to the heart of the defence alongside Gareth McAuley. This is West Brom's best defensive partnership but it would mean Chester having to play at left-back. The former Hull man did well against Zaha but struggled in previous games and would find himself tasked with directly marking the tricky Riyad Mahrez.
As a result, Pulis is likely to return to a more defensive-minded set-up for the midweek visit to the league leaders. While it is frustrating considering how successful and entertaining West Brom were against Palace, it's an understandable approach. Leicester thrive when there is space to counter attack; making the game as open as possible would be a dangerous tactic on the road.
West Brom will look to keep things compact, making the game as narrow as possible and putting all the pressure on Leicester to break WBA down. In attack, Pulis will look to his side's strength from set pieces to nick a goal, much like the performance in their previous away game against Everton, where Rondon got West Brom an undeserved 1-0 win.
Matthew Evans is a lifelong West Brom fan and season-ticket holder. You can follow him on Twitter @MattEvansWBA.