West Bromwich Albion head coach Roberto Di Matteo believes he is close to deciding how his side will line up for the opening game of the season against Newcastle United in just over a week’s time but he has told his squad there is still time to change his mind.
Albion’s pre-season performances have left Di Matteo with plenty to ponder but he said after Tuesday night’s 1-0 defeat at Swindon Town that he knows roughly the line-up he will pick on August 8, although he is still undecided on a few positions.
One of those is sure to be at centre back, where the role of Jonas Olsson’s partner is up for grabs, while Di Matteo may also be undecided over which strike pairing he will go for, with new arrival Simon Cox taking time to settle in.
“I already have a rough idea what our team is going to look like against Newcastle,” he said. “But there are still a few positions open, so the players still have a chance to make an impression and show they want to be part of the team.
“We still have a lot of work ahead of us, especially on the defensive side of things. That doesn’t just mean the defenders. To defend is a team effort. That’s what we have to focus on.
“I think we have enough quality going forward to always be dangerous but we have to make sure we are a bit tighter at the other end.
“The positives from the Swindon game are that, when we did have possession, there was good quality on the ball. Also, a few players played 90 minutes.
“But I rotated the team a little bit because we’ve played three games in six days and have another one on Saturday at home to Chievo.
“If I’m honest, I would have liked to have been a bit further ahead in terms of the work we’ve done but I realise it’s not just going to happen in three weeks.
“Fitness-wise, I have no complaints. We’ll be fit and sharp at the beginning of the Championship.”
Di Matteo is confident Cox will be up to speed soon after an ankle injury set his pre-season preparations back.
“Simon is a bit behind because he has had a bit of a problem with his ankle,” Di Matteo said.
“You can see he hasn’t quite got his sharpness but I am sure that once he gets one goal under his belt he will be fine.”
One player who will almost certainly miss the Toon visit is key midfielder James Morrison, who is recovering from a heel injury.
“James hasn’t been able to start his training yet but that will hopefully happen next week,” Di Matteo said.
“It’s a shame he’s late coming back into the squad because he’s a very good player for this team, but he will be back.”
Albion’s pre-season game at Port Vale, scheduled for last night, was postponed because of a waterlogged pitch and there are no plans to reschedule the fixture.