Premier League Preview: West Brom
Posted by Daniele Accurso | Published on August 10, 2016
Predicted Finish: 18th
As another new season draws near for the baggies, many are predicting that Pulis’ magic will wear off this time around and ultimately see the club relegated. With Pulis, you know what you’re getting; a gritty, long ball playing manager whose prime target is to stay up. What West Brom fans however want to see is the club progress onto that next level. Can Tony Pulis provide for a club moving forward? Stoke didn’t think so, with Mark Hughes taking up the reigns and making them into an attractive top 10 side. What makes West Brom an interesting prospect is the anger brewing within the fans. Last season in the FA cup away to Reading, a fan threw a coin straight at Chris Brunt, who has played at West Brom for 9 seasons, following their 3-1 loss against the Championship side. This action was in retaliation to the baggies poor performance and loss in a cup competition which the fans wanted to go far in. This frustration will continue into the new season and if the Midland club start the season poorly, the crowd may just turn on Pulis and the players, turning the atmosphere nasty at the Hawthorns.
For a side who battled their way to safety last term, you would think the club would be busy in the window strengthening their squad, preparing themselves for an easier fight this season. That’s not how West Brom seem to be going about it in the summer transfer window. Only one signing so far in the form of Matt Phillips from QPR, for £5.5 million, has come through the door. Yes Phillips is a great signing, he can beat players for pace and whip in a precise cross, all attributes of a Pulis type player however, he is the only signing! In addition, the deal for West Ham’s Sakho, which would have been a club record fee of around £15 million, collapsed after Diafra failed a medical. How a player can fail a medical, apart from being injured, which Sakho wasn’t at the time is beyond me.
A few high profile figures have left the club including; Stephane Sessegnon who made 27 appearances last season and striker Victor Anichebe, who scored nine in 63 games. These departures won’t worry the club too much as “star” players haven’t moved on but it’s the lack of purchases which worry me. A squad always needs to be bolstered and can never stop getting stronger, so why Pulis has been so inactive is curious.
The on going saga that is Saido Berahino should come to an end this August but as the days pass by, he still remains a baggie. His poor performaces last season may’ve put off potential buyers like Tottenham, who ended their interest by signing Janssen from Ajax. Stoke and Watford are the new teams wanting to buy the Englishman but as to date, their deals have become stagnate when discussing a fee. Jeremy Pearce, West Brom’s chairman, wants a rumoured £20 million for the 23 year old but with last seasons tally of only four goals for the club, it seems that both Stoke and Watford value him at less. Berahino has made his intentions clear he wants to leave the Midland outfit, but with the saga ongoing, it’s hard for West Brom to sign players when they don’t know how much they’re getting for Berahino. The best thing for both the player and the club would be to sell Saido immediately and focus on getting new recruits for the upcoming season. Either way, the windows been lacklustre for the club, thus will only enrage the fans even more.
After finishing 13th and 14th in the past two seasons respectively, the club need to push on and aim for that mid table slot of 12th to 8th. Finishing 14th last season adds a gloss over the final league standings however, it tells a lie. Only 7 points separated them and relegated Newcastle and with the fight to avoid the drop intensifying this season with better prepared teams, West Brom are one of the favourites for the drop. Burnley have become more of a unit from two years ago, Andre Gray can get them the goals they missed last time they were in the league. Sunderland have brought in David Moyes who knows the league well whilst Middlesbrough have bought in top talent including Negredo and Victor Valdes. With Pulis, you give yourselves a good chance of surviving but, it may be one battle too far for them this season. Essentially, it comes down to are there three worse teams than West Brom? Hull look certain for the drop but the other two places are hard to call. Will all three promoted teams go down and Pulis’ proficiency see West Brom over the line? It’s a tough one to call but with the lack of signings, West Brom have gone backwards rather than forwards, which seems them predicted in 18th spot.
What the fans will want to see along with a strong position in the league this year is a good run in the cups. They only managed the third round of the League cup, succumbing to a 3-0 away loss to Norwich. The FA cup wasn’t too bad for the club, with a 5th round loss to Reading ending their time in the cup however, it did lead to Brunt getting a coin thrown in his face. If West Brom were challenging for a top half finish, the fans may let off another year of heartache in the cups however, with avoiding relegation their only aim it seems again this season, the cups should be a priority. Crystal Palace got to the FA cup final last year and Hull the previous year so there is nothing stopping Pulis from going far in the competition apart from himself. Pulis needs to give the fans something to shout about and a cup run might just be the answer to heal the growing dissent between the fans and the players.
The Venezuelan target man adapted to the league well last season and has earned himself the chance of being the club’s main striker again this season. His big physique can frighten the best of centre backs in the league, shown in the 3-2 home defeat against Chelsea where he got an assist and managed to get John Terry sent off. In the 2015/16 campaign, he managed to find the back of the net 9 times in 34 games which isn’t too bad for a club who don’t score many in general. His arrival saw the club’s record transfer fee broken and he’ll have to find a similar tally of goals in order for West Brom to stay up this season. With Berahino seemingly leaving the club, Rondon has all the pressure on his shoulders as the main goal scorer, with Rickie Lambert now their second choice striker. Can the ex-Zenit St Petersburg man lead from the front and get the goals the club needs? He’ll have to, or it could be another low scoring season, with relegation looming!
Arguably the most important player at West Brom is Darren Fletcher. As the current club captain, Pulis has faith in Fletcher’s ability to lead the team on and off the field. The mental side takes its toll on players in a relegation battle and Fletcher’s influence to motivate the players is one which cannot be underestimated. His experience with Manchester United goes along way, winning various titles including 4 premier league titles and a champions league, Fletcher is the player in the dressing room who’ll be looked to when the times are tough. Playing all 38 games last season suggest what capabilities he has on the field but as mentioned, it is his off the field expertise which will be more noteworthy for the club’s fight to stay up. Fletcher will have to embrace the challenge and all his experience to not just be a captain, but a leader!
Looking at Leko’s progression through the club’s youth set up, Jonathan reminds me of Saido Berahino. A smallish, pacy striker who will run at defences, Leko has an abundance of raw talent which Pulis needs to harness. A striker who has been brought into the team at the back end of last season, he broke various records. He made his debut against Sunderland in April coming on as a substitute. This outing made him the first player born in 1999 to make an appearance in the Premier League. When he started against West Ham on 30th April, he became the first player to start in the premier league born in 1999. In total, he made 6 appearances for the club and now at the age of 17, with Berahino looking likely to leave, Leko should get more first team opportunities and might surprise a few with his performances this season.
Good luck to West Brom fans and players alike this season. Prove everyone wrong!
Thanks for reading!