The FourFourTwo Preview: West Brom vs Sunderland
A relegation six-pointer on the first day of the season? Surely not...
WEST BROM FORM
- WBA 1-3 Porto (F)
- Port Vale 3-2 WBA (F)
- Nottm Forest 1-0 WBA (F)
- Sacramento 1-3 WBA (F)
- Sacramento 0-1 WBA (F)
- S'land 2-0 Udinese (F)
- S'land 2-0 Real Betis (F)
- Vitoria Setubal 0-0 S'land (F)
- Nacional 0-1 S'land (F)
- Recreativo 1-0 S'land (F)
Judging by the way in which both sides escaped their respective relegation battles last season, survival guilt will be in play this weekend. Both West Brom and Sunderland walked away from the wreckage of their car crash campaigns with Premier League statuses intact. Only time will tell if their navigation has improved over the summer break.
For Sunderland, there is some aspect of confidence-building at work. The way in which they avoided the drop was a Houdini act envisaged only by the most wildly optimistic of fans. Having taken points from title-chasing sides at the season's close, manager Gus Poyet was handed a period of respite: finally he could shape a team to his liking.
Well, sort of. Frustration is the word best used to describe Sunderland's results in the transfer market so far.
Effective winger-cum-striker Fabio Borini has left the club red-faced having resisted attempts to make his loan move to the Stadium of Light a permanent affair after a deal was agreed with parent club Liverpool; Swansea captain Ashley Williams - another of Poyet's choices - signed a contract extension at the Liberty Stadium.
The good news is that Jack Rodwell was secured for £10 million from Manchester City and striker Steven Fletcher - unavailable for long periods during last season - should feel like a new signing.
With manager Alan Irvine newly installed, West Brom have invested wisely in the summer, spending a fair few quid on Brown Ideye (£10m from Dynamo Kiev), as well as recruiting Craig Gardner from Sunderland and City's Joleon Lescott. Whether they can lift themselves from a demoralising 12 months - both on and off the pitch - remains to be seen, but a good start here is vital if they're to ward off any sense of deja vu.
Billy Jones will miss the season opener, though new signing Rodwell will be available for selection. Joleon Lescott is being nursed through injury and Scottish midfielder James Morrison underwent a knee operation in the summer having joined West Brom's pre season preparations at a late stage. His lack of fitness could prove a blow in the early salvos. "It's a big concern that Morrison hasn't trained all summer," says Irvine. "He's an important player for us and we could have done with him being with us for pre-season."
Key battle: Craig Gardner vs Jack Rodwell
Rodwell is a player with something to prove having joined from City in the summer, but there are signs his arrival has been positive. “For such a young player Jack has had quite a lot of experience," says team-mate Liam Bridcutt. “He is obviously a top player having been at Manchester City for so long, but it was tough for him to get an opportunity there so he is coming here hungry and ready to go… he is a good player to have around."
How Craig Gardner, a player who only recently joined West Brom from the Stadium of Light, operates against him will be key in settling the tempo. The central midfielder, who was played in the right-back spot at times last season, will be looking to impress here if he's to secure his favoured position under Irvine.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- S'land 2-0 WBA (PL, May 14)
- WBA 3-0 S'land (PL, Sep 13)
- WBA 2-1 S'land (PL, Feb 13)
- S'land 2-4 WBA (PL, Nov 12)
- WBA 0-4 S'land (PL, Feb 12)
Time for Poyet to place his money alongside his mouth: on occasions, he was quick to blame Sunderland's poor form on his predecessors. Certainly during the club's jaw-dropping survival surge (a draw with Manchester City, plus wins over Manchester United, Chelsea, Cardiff and West Brom), he proved he could motivate his players into impressive performances. Now is the time to deliver stability.
Irvine's appointment at West Brom was enough to raise eyebrows among a group of supporters so startled in recent months that their collective expression often resembled an advert for Botox.
The Scotsman left his previous club, Sheffield Wednesday, under a cloud, though his reputation has improved at Everton's youth academy. Whether he can restore the club's reputation is one of the season's big debates, but he can't do any worse than Pepe Mel, surely?
Facts and figures
- Gus Poyet will be the fourth different manager Sunderland have had on the opening weekend in the last four seasons and fifth in the last seven.
- Sunderland claimed as many points in their final 6 games as Liverpool and Chelsea in 2013/14 (13).
- No team won fewer games than West Brom in the 2013/14 Premier League season (7, level with Cardiff).
More FFT Stats Zone facts
West Brom to scrape a score draw. 1-1.