by Paul Smart
This New Year’s Eve the attention of most neutrals will be fixed firmly on Anfield for unquestionably the most significant clash of the day. Liverpool v Manchester City is not simply second v third but the title credentials for each given a thorough examination. It will be box office. Klopp v Pep. It will send 2016 out with a bang.
Two hours earlier however there is another potential humdinger in the making as West Brom travel to the south coast to take on Claude Puel’s Southampton. Both sides are enjoying sustained good form with the hosts looking to replicate last season’s impressive European qualification while the Baggies are presently on course to achieve their highest top flight finish since the glory days at the Hawthorns in the early eighties.
The manner in which Puel has retained the Saints’ vibrant identity while implementing his own philosophy at St Marys should not be under-estimated. He has been compared to a silent assassin and it’s perhaps because of his under-stated qualities that the Frenchman has not yet received the amount of credit he deserves for keeping Southampton competing within the top ten despite the costly loss of Ronald Koeman to Everton in the summer.
Keeping himself under the radar has never been a consideration of his opposite number along the technical area this Saturday. Tony Pulis has come to represent the dogged, hard-working units who separate the domestic game from its continental counterparts and it’s a charge that is rarely dished out as a compliment. Pulis is a manager so familiar to us all he has been burdened by stereotype. Want to keep your side in the Premier League against all odds? Here’s your man but just don’t expect pretty passing football into the bargain.
Whether that is fair or otherwise perhaps some revisionism is overdue because the gaffer with a penchant for sporting the club shop merch has transformed the Midlands outfit in recent months, making them a formidable proposition for anyone daft enough to sell them short.
Three defeats in their last four games hardly backs up the earlier claim that West Brom are in fine fettle but it should be remembered that each reverse was a tight loss to teams above them in the league. Indeed the Baggies’ only defeats since early September have been to Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and both Manchester behemoths. Against their multitude of equals West Brom have invariably come out on top or navigated their way to priceless away draws which makes them a great shout for a smash-and-grab victory here despite what the bookies predict. Want a generous gamble that could pay off handsomely? Visit http://uk-k8.com/ and play some casino online games and then consider West Brom to head home with the three points this Saturday and see in 2017 nestled beneath only the big guns. It would complete a fabulous turn-around for a club that began the campaign to disgruntlement from the fans following a disappointing summer transfer window. It would further prove wrong those who tipped them for the drop in 2016/17.
This weekend, ahead of drunken renditions of Auld Lang’s Syne, a nation will tune in to watch two title contenders slug it out on the Anfield turf. Yet nobody expected otherwise back in August. The battle to be crowned the surprise package of this season meanwhile will have already been concluded, and for whoever triumphs it will be richly deserved.