With West Bromwich Albion heading into Friday night’s Championship clash off the back of a highly impressive 4-0 win at Cardiff in midweek, a result which shot the Baggies to the top of the table, the Frenchman will certainly be hoping for yet another dominant display against Stoke City this evening.
However, with Michael O’Neill’s Potters side having also started their 2021/22 campaign in fine form, picking up 18 points from their opening 10 fixtures of the season and sitting fifth in the table, a win at the bet365 Stadium is by no means guaranteed for Ismael’s men.
Indeed, the 45-year-old will need to ensure that he selects the strongest possible starting XI for the fixture, something which has been considerably boosted by the early return of Matt Clarke, with the centre-back set to once again be available after missing the club’s last six Championship fixtures due to a hamstring injury.
While Kean Bryan was brought in to help cover the absence of centre-back duo Clarke and Dara O’Shea, the return of Clarke should see the Brighton loanee jump ahead of the former Sheffield United man in the centre-back pecking order. The 24-year-old has struggled to get up to match fitness since joining the club, having played just one minute of Championship football this season.
Indeed, over his three Championship appearances for the Baggies this term, the £2.7m-rated Clarke has averaged 2.3 interceptions, one tackle and 2.7 clearances and has won a highly impressive 7.3 duels per game.
As such, with a tricky – and potentially very physical – game against Stoke coming up for Ismael and his side, it would seem advisable for the Frenchman to throw Clarke back into his starting line-up against the Potters. The £21k-per-week loanee has already proven with his statistics during his time at The Hawthorns that he can be something of a game-changer in the Baggies’ back three.