Not even Rafael's Sunday league approach to defending could deter Saido Berahino from netting in West Brom's 2-2 draw with Manchester United on Monday night. The Brazilian appeared to shout as a means of unsettling the England hopeful as he bore down on David De Gea's goal in the 65th minute. Berahino, though, did not let it affect him as he calmly slotted past the Spaniard to put the Baggies in front for the second time on the night.
Unfortunately for the hosts, however, they were unable to claim the win as Daley Blind's well-placed effort rescued a point, but the draw means West Brom have now lost just one of their last four in the Premier League after a tumultuous start to life under Alan Irvine. Now moving up the table, optimism has replaced pessimism at the Hawthorns ahead of a winnable meeting with Crystal Palace on Saturday.
Much of that has been down to the performances of Berahino. The young striker has netted 4 of West Brom's last six Premier League goals and the confidence he exudes is rubbing off on his teammates. An away win over Tottenham Hotspur last month proved to be the catalyst for their recent run of form and while Berahino was not at the centre of the victory at White Hart Lane, he has been in fine form since.
Only Graham Dorrans (7.64) and Craig Dawson (7.61) have a better average WhoScored rating than Berahino (7.53) from the recent league meetings with Burnley, Liverpool and United in what has been a month to remember for the 21-year-old. His goalscoring exploits leave him behind only Diego Costa and Sergio Agüero (both nine) in terms of Premier League goals this season (six). That tally, in eight appearances, is already better than his goal return in England's top tier last term (five goals in 32 appearances).
Berahino's recent form has even led to suggestions that he deserves a call up to Roy Hodgson's next England squad and with the Baggies ace currently the highest scoring Englishman in the Premier League, the calls are not without merit. He is clearly brimming with confidence at present, evidenced in that he's averaging more shots per start this season (2.9) than the 2013/14 season (2.4).
What has helped Berahino's development has been his deployment in his favoured central striking role. Only four of his 11 starts (36.4%) last season were as the lead frontman, while 5 of his 8 (62.5%) this season have come at centre-forward. The club record £10m acquisition of Brown Ideye and subsequent arrival of Giorgios Samaras could have minimised Berahino's first team action in his preferred position, but the 21-year-old's performances mean that, when they are available, Ideye and Samaras are not getting a look in under Irvine.
The faith placed in the young attacker is clearly benefitting both player and team. Not only is Berahino in a rich vein of goalscoring form, but he is bringing out the best in those around him. Graham Dorrans is a prime example of this. The Scotland international failed to register an assist last season, but has 2 this term already, both of which came for Berahino goals in West Brom's win over Burnley at the end of September.
Berahino's movement in the final third creates space for others. Take, for example, Stéphane Sessegnon's goal against United on Monday. As Andre Wisdom broke down the right flank, Berahino pulled left as confusion reigned in the United backline. This drew the attention of Phil Jones, while Marcos Rojo was forced to remain in a more central position in order to maintain United's defensive shape with Luke Shaw caught up field.
Berahino screamed for the early cross at the back post, helping to divert attention away from Sessegnon, who delayed his run to create the chance before firing past De Gea to put the Baggies ahead. For West Brom's second, Berahino was able to find space between Jones and Rafael and finish expertly. It was a goal by a player whose confidence is at its highest at present as he continues to excel in Irvine's preferred 4-2-3-1 formation.
Against a Crystal Palace side that has conceded in each of their four league games away from Selhurst Park this season, Berahino is presented with the perfect opportunity to continue his goalscoring run this weekend. With morale high, one would be foolish to bet against the youngster adding to his six league goals when the Eagles travel to the Midlands.