Blues are sitting pretty in the top half of the table – a far cry from where many of us expected. Back to back winners from teenage sensation Jude Bellingham have Blues fans riding a wave and with another home game to come, the feeling could go through the roof, or back down to Earth. Blues took down high-fliers Charlton last time out when few gave them a chance – so as favourites at home, we all know how this story ends for Blues.
Preston have had a mixed start, but wins at home to Brentford and Sheffield Wednesday, with a draw against Nottingham Forest in-between, has left them in good stead. They’re not a team full of big names, but ex-V*lla midfielder Daniel Johnson has bagged against Blues a few times before, and is a player to watch out for. Preston sit in the playoff positions, just above Blues – so a Blues win would put them into the playoff positions.
Jude Bellingham has put himself firmly in contention for a starting berth, with his winner against Charlton. He and Dan Crowley will surely start once again, whilst Kerim Mrabti’s assist and partnership with Maxime Colin brought much encouragement to Blues fans. Fran is likely to be back, too, but we think he and Maghoma are going to warm the bench again. Cheick Keita has been talked about after his return to training as a potential winger option for Blues, but it seems unlikely he will oust any of the players who played against the Addicks.
David Nugent is back from injury for Preston, but forward Tom Barkhuizen bagged last time out against Brentford so will probably start up top again for them.
Blues won at home to Preston last year, partly thanks to a Maikel Kieftenbeld… ahem, wonder strike. It was a different story at Deepdale last time around, with Sean Maguire scoring the only goal from a corner. The year before, Blues lost 3-1 at home despite taking the lead through Maxime Colin, and drew 1-1 in Preston.
We expect an unchanged line-up from last time out. Though Clotet did talk about looking after Bellingham, it seems absurd to not start him after last week, and Kerim Mrabti impressed too. The lineup looks like it could have a dynamic 442/4411/4231 shape as needed. Blues should have an incredibly strong bench, at least, with Maghoma, Fran and Gimenez being attacking options.
Pep Clotet spoke about last week’s win, and what he thinks Preston will bring tomorrow: “I think it was a good step forward for us because we managed to be ourselves away from home and to make sure we were solid defensively, produce offensively and keep control of the game.
“The attitude of the players was very good, the commitment to the Club was very good. It was a very good performance away from home. There are a lot of things we can do better, but the points were there for us, we turned ourselves into a team that can have good games away from home, coming from bad games. It was very positive for our confidence.”
“A very tough game, we can see from the numbers it is a stronger side at home than away, I think it only takes one game to be a good side away. I think they are a very solid team, a team that has had the same management for three years, it is very stable, very solid, everyone knows how they play and operate. That gives them a lot of solidity. Defensively they work very well, I am expecting a Preston who will press us high, play with a lot of intensity and with the ball who will play forward, try to connect and create chances based on speed and tempo, so it’s going to be a very difficult game.”
Alex Neil spoke about the threat Blues possess in his press conference: “If you can adapt and be successful in terms of adapting to the opposition, you will have the opportunity to pick up points. Their (Blues’) games that they have won have been very tight, with one goal in them – apart from Barnsley which they won 2-0 – so it will be a tough game. We know exactly what to expect, it is just whether we can cope with it – physically can we stand up to the challenge and when we have the ball, can we use it. They have strengthened their squad and have adapted well. They have a coach who worked closely with Garry last year. There isn’t a massive difference in what they are trying to do. They tried to go with a back three at the beginning of the season, but they have not veered away from that, so it will be an interesting match and a different test for us. We know it is a tough place to go, and always have been, so this is a difficult game for us, but we have just got to make sure the form we have shown on the road in terms of performances is turned into points.”