How Tony Pulis and the Baggies will do over the next 12 months...
It’s difficult to preview West Bromwich Albion in 2015/16. Their squad is pretty average. They have a lot of solid-if-unspectacular Premier League players – captain Darren Fletcher, Claudio Yacob, Chris Brunt and Gareth McAuley stand out – but little stardust, except for Saido Berahino.
With Tony Pulis firmly consolidated as Baggies boss – a boardroom shake-up has only strengthened his power at the club – you can’t see West Brom being involved in a sustained relegation fight. The Welsh tactician drills his teams too fastidiously on the training ground for that, so what should you expect for the coming season?
In short, much of the same: plenty of single-goal victories and clean sheet-focused displays. You wonder, though, at what stage Baggies fans will demand something more aesthetic?
What the fan says...
Alex Horton of BaggiesBlog.co.uk gives us his views on West Brom's season to come.
Why they’ll do well
- James McClean (Wigan Athletic)
- James Chester (Hull)
- Graham Dorrans (Norwich)
- Youssouf Mulumbu (Norwich)
- Chris Baird (Derby)
- Jason Davidson (Huddersfield)
- Georgios Samaras (Released)
Their manager is battle-hardened in this league and is a safe bet to maintain West Brom’s top-flight status for another 12 months. Training encompasses extensive set-piece work and an instilled determination to scrap for every ball, no matter the game situation. No player is allowed to coast.
It’s this attention to detail why Pulis was able to win at Old Trafford last season for the first time in his managerial career. The building blocks are there for improvement. Although injured, Ben Foster is an excellent goalkeeper (with Welsh pair Wayne Hennessey and Boaz Myhill more than able deputies) and McAuley and Jonas Olsson consistent defenders. Brunt provides fine dead-ball delivery and Berahino the goals.
If new signing James McClean can replicate his early Premier League form from Sunderland – while ignoring the ridiculous controversy surrounding his decision not to acknowledge God Save The Queen during pre-season – and another couple of creative arrivals blossom, a top-half finish may not be beyond them.
Why they’ll do badly
The squad lacks creativity. Being a functional Premier League team is all well and good, but eventually you have to find a lock-picker who can fashion something from nothing. Even the quickest scan of the squad shows as much.
So, too, the statistics. West Brom’s leading assister last season was Brunt, the majority coming from set-pieces. Craig Gardner came next with just four. Indeed, half of the Baggies’ 38-goal total in 2014/15 came from a dead ball. More is needed from open play, now that some semblance of stability has been achieved.
For that to happen, Pulis will need to spend, but by late July only McClean had arrived. His transfer record at Stoke was far from perfect – buying a lot of players for around £10m, rarely playing them and moving them on for free – so bean counters in the West Midlands must hope the manager’s eye for a player has improved somewhat.
Interest in Arsenal’s Serge Gnabry, Liverpool striker Rickie Lambert and QPR assist king Matt Phillips suggest it might.
The big questions...
1) When will they find some consistency?
Pulis steadied the tottering ship impressively last season, but his charges didn’t manage back-to-back victories after he took over in late December. In fact, only once – in September against Spurs and Burnley under Alan Irvine – did they win consecutive matches. The Old Trafford triumph shows they can mix it with the league’s best, now they must do so on a more regular basis.
2) Can Brown Ideye justify his fee?
Signed for a club-record £10m, the Nigerian’s four league goals last term simply isn’t a good enough return. Were Berahino to get injured, or be snapped up by a bigger fish, the Baggies would be struggling. Either restore his confidence and give Brown games, or replace him with an upgrade.
3) Is it time for McManaman to shine?
There’s no denying the former Wigan winger has the talent – his jinking dribbles en route to 2013 FA Cup glory are testament to that – but the 24-year-old failed to find his best form after arriving in the West Midlands in January. Yes, the Baggies need to buy in some creativity, but in McManaman they already have a more than capable option.
Key player: James Morrison
Every team needs a player like the English-born Scottish international. Now in his ninth season with the club, Morrison is a midfield mainstay, someone who can play in four different positions. When Pulis has a hole to fill, it’s usually the 29-year-old former Middlesbrough man who is chief plug. A fine technician, Morrison has made 30 or more appearances in all bar one of his years at The Hawthorns and will do so again. An essential cog in the West Brom machine, especially if they are to improve on last season’s 13th-place finish.
What we’ll be saying come May
It’ll be another season of Premier League football at The Hawthorns, but the murmurings of a better brand of the beautiful game refuse to go away. Pulis must inject something different into this team or he’s facing another Stoke stagnation. And just look at what Mark Hughes has managed to do with them.
To see where FourFourTwo think West Brom will finish – along with a bespoke two-page preview – get our special new season issue.