This article is part of Football FanCast’s The Chalkboard series, which provides a tactical insight into teams, players, managers, potential signings and more…
West Bromwich Albion return to Championship action on Saturday afternoon as they welcome Sheffield Wednesday to the Hawthorns.
The Baggies will be looking to continue their run of fine form which has seen them lose just one game all season, and they will also want to keep the chasing pack at arm’s length with the gap to second place only being a mere two points.
Slaven Bilic faces a significant selection dilemma as both Romaine Sawyers and skipper Jake Livermore will be absent through suspension, but he too may need to start implementing a new approach so that one of his misfiring strikers can genuinely get their season underway.
A fit and firing Charlie Austin is only going to result in Albion reaping the rewards come the end of the season, so it should be a sacrifice that the Croatian is willing to make.
A player that has bagged 67 goals in 140 regular season Championship games doesn’t lose that touch mysteriously overnight.
Some of Austin’s best goal returns have been when his physical presence is most utilised.
Per WhoScored, in the 2016/17 season, the 30-year-old bagged six goals in 11 starts while averaging a total of 2.9 aerial duels won per game.
This is a similar theme throughout. The 2015/16 season saw him score ten goals in 12 starts, averaging 3.4 aerial duels won per game, and in the 2013/14 season, Austin managed 19 goals in 31 starts, averaging 2.8 aerial duels won per game.
Currently, the former Southampton striker is averaging 0.8 aerial duels won per match, which is a substantial decrease compared to his most fruitful seasons, and this is because of the system Bilic plays.
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An easy solution to this would be to provide Austin with more crosses – Matt Phillips only manages an average of 1.3 per game while Grady Diangana’s numbers are much worse at 0.4 per match, via WhoScored.
Bilic wouldn’t be making a major tweak either.
That last ball in the final third needs to be something that allows Austin to use his predatory strength inside the penalty area, as that is precisely where he has scored the bulk of his goals during his career.