West Brom boss Sam Allardyce is facing a difficult dilemma ahead of his side’s clash with Everton tomorrow evening.
The 66-year-old is able to welcome back one of his first-team regulars, Semi Ajayi, from suspension, meaning he’ll have a decision to make defensively after his side kept another rare clean sheet.
Young academy graduate Dara O’Shea expertly deputised in the absence of the 6 foot 4 colossus, but there will be a temptation to bring Ajayi straight back in, and so there should…
The 27-year-old, signed from Rotherham for a bargain £1.5m, has started 24 matches in the Premier League this season, including all but one under Big Sam’s control.
That being the controversial 1-0 victory over Brighton and Hove Albion at the weekend, which saw the result marred by a moment of madness from referee Lee Mason, and then VAR.
Without Ajayi, the versatile Irishman stepped up to the plate, recording his season-high average rating of 7.58 after winning five aerial duels (nearly double his average for the season), making five interceptions (1.7 per game average) and putting in three clearances, via WhoScored.
It’s no wonder that Allardyce has hinted that he could well stick with O’Shea, he told the Express & Star earlier this week:
“We got a clean sheet and Dara has performed very well. Dara was unlucky to be left out the side anyway. He did a job for us filling in in a few different positions and then found himself left out the team which is very disappointing.”
This may tell us there’s a chance he starts again, but perhaps there’s a clue right there. Big Sam has dropped him before, and shouldn’t be afraid to do so again.
O’Shea has previously been lauded “the future” of the club by former boss Slaven Bilic, while Exeter manager Matty Taylor dubbed him “exceptional” and claimed he had ” a chance of making it all the way in the game.”
While this is all true, he’s going to be a long-term option in the role, rather than someone starting each and every week.
The Baggies will be facing an Everton side with the troublesome Dominic Calvert-Lewin up front, a player known for his strong aerial ability (wins 4.7 duels per game).
As a result, those extra three inches may well be needed to thwart the £40.5m-rated talisman. And in addition to that, Ajayi is West Brom’s third-highest goalscorer for the current campaign with two goals, so evidently, he’s more of a nuisance from set-pieces than O’Shea, who has no goals this term, too.
Calvert-Lewin has bagged 18 goals in all competitions this season too, which is a worrying prospect when Big Sam needs clean sheets to spearhead Albion to safety – therefore, reverting back to his usual defence seems the best option, as ruthless as it would be.
O’Shea has struggled in some big games this season, as per WhoScored – Leicester and Jamie Vardy (5.56 rating), Leeds and Patrick Bamford (5.79), Man City and Raheem Sterling (5.58).
He could be at risk once again here.
The £2.25m-rated defender must be axed with Ajayi available for selection.