This is a very different West Brom than the team we saw earlier in the season; Roy Hodgson has been the Baggies' manager for nine games and they've lost one and won four, likely guaranteeing safety along the way. While I am an outspoken fan of Roberto di Matteo and I still (stubbornly) maintain that West Brom's decision to relieve him of his duties was a shortsighted one, they appear to have made the right call in terms of who to hire in order for them to stay up. Di Matteo is a gifted manager, but he didn't have a lot to work with at West Brom; Hodgson meanwhile is quite good at making due with what he's given. His days managing elite clubs are likely over, but for this particular situation he's a wonderful fit.
Hodgson's West Brom aren't Stoke, but they're certainly not going to be called a poor man's Arsenal any time soon either. Much of what they do in the attack revolves around Peter Odemwingie, and for good reason; the Nigerian international striker (who, and I will admit to not knowing this before tonight, was born in Tashkkent Uzbekistan) has been a force at West Brom, netting 13 goals on the year and attracting interest from some very big clubs in top leagues. Odemwingie is the key to stopping the Baggies' attack, but that's clearly not a simple task; if we're graced with the bad version of Dunne and/or Collins it could be an ugly day.
West Brom can score a bit, but they've also been a very poor defensive club. Much of their goals-allowed can be traced to some early season spankings and they've certainly tightened things up at the back since Hodgson's arrival, but they're still not what one would call solid defensively. Were I Gary McAllister I'd go with a very attacking lineup and attempt to flat-out overwhelm the Baggies. Any club is vulnerable when chasing goals but West Brom even moreso and after a somewhat disappointing result last week it sure would be nice to get a spanking in, especially away from Villa Park.
Were this matchup not a derby I'd expect to see some of the younger faces involved, but given what is typically a fairly heated atmosphere it's tough to say. If there's an opponent that plays to Michael Bradley's skill set in the Premier League it's West Brom, but it still seems likely that we'll see a partnership involving two of Reo-Coker, Makoun and Petrov, at least at the start. If we do see an out-of-favor (seemingly) youngster in the XI, I'd expect it to be Marc Albrighton. His defensive liabilities are perhaps less of a concern against the Baggies and he's been a bit without a start.
Mentally I feel like Villa are out of 'must-win' territory in terms of staying safe, but in reality I won't feel comfortable until we're at 44 points and we'll need one more win to get there. I have a feeling the folks in charge feel similarly and I'd like to see the kids get a run-out before having to face Arsenal and Liverpool to close out the year. This is a winnable game and three points would put the team in position for a realistic shot at the top half.
But, you know. Villa.