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Premier League Preview: West Bromwich Albion

Aug 11, 2013, 9:08 AM EDT

500px-West_Bromwich_Albion.svg

Each day from now until the beginning of the Premier League season, we will preview two teams from England’s top flight. You can view them all here at PST Preview central. Don’t forget, the 2013-14 PL season begins on August 17th, and for the first-time ever you can watch every game live on NBC Sports.

By final ranking, last season was a huge success for West Bromwich Albion, the club’s eighth place finish their best in 22 years. Look at the points, column, however, and you see a Baggie team that was closer to relegation than Europe. Having failed to secure the return of last year’s leading scorer, the West Midlands club looks unlikely to replicate last year’s success, but for a team that’s faced relegation three times since 2003, merely staying up is still considered a successful season.

Transfers In: F Nicolas Anelka (Juventus), D Diego Lugano (Paris Saint-Germain)

Transfer Out:  M Scott Allan (Birmingham City), F Marc-Antoine Fortuné (Wigan Athletic), D Gonzalo Jara (Nottingham Forest), F Romelu Lukaku (loan expired, Chelsea), M Romaine Sawyers (Walsall), W Jerome Thomas (Crystal Palace)

source: Getty ImagesKey Player: It probably doesn’t speak well of the Baggies’ summer that they’re left relying on Nicolas Anelka (pictured) to fill the shoes of the departed Romelu Lukaku, but with seven goals in preseason, perhaps the 34-year-old’s tank isn’t empty. In the few minutes he got at Juventus after his January loan from Shanghai Shenhua, Anelka seemed to have left his game in Asia. He only ended up appearing three times for Antonio Conte. Now, back in England have a year-and-a-half sojourn, Anelka’s hinting he may have something to give to his 11th club.

He certainly won’t be able to replicate Lukaku’s production, though, be it replacing the Belgian international’s goals (17) or helping get more out of Shane Long and James Morrison. Better for West Brom to hope the addition of Diego Lugano plus improved play from others at the back reduces their 57 goals allowed.

Manager: After nearly a decade as one of the most-respected assistants in England, Clarks finally got his shot at The Hawthorns, replacing Roy Hodgson after his predecessor took the England national team job. With the Baggies having finished 11th and 10th in Hodgson’s year-and-a-half, some expected West Brom to regress. Instead, the former St. Mirren and Chelsea defender forged the league’s eight-best attack, restoring some of the danger the team showed when they were promoted under Roberto Di Matteo.

Outlook: West Brom finished last season atop a relatively tight cluster of teams from eight to 18th. Between Lukaku’s loss, the lack of improvements elsewhere, and the moves their competition’s made, West Brom seem set for a significant step back. If things go wrong, they could battle relegation; if, however, Clarke can find replicate the magic he found with Lukaku, the Baggies could against finish in the league’s top half.

MORE: Read all the Premier League previews for each team here

  1. prie4930 - Aug 15, 2013 at 2:26 PM

    Solid preview. My only real qualm that I’ve seen though, with both this and other WBA previews is this. Everyone points out that the final table indicates the Baggies were closer to relegation than to Europe, sure. What I’ve seen nary a mention of is the Odemwingie-gate factor. There is a noticeable drop-off in the results before and after the controversy reached a head on January 31st. While the early-season success started to hit the skids in early December with losses at The Hawthorns to Stoke and later, Fulham, West Brom was still very much in contention towards the end of January for a European bid. On January 20th, the Baggies were slotted 8th in the table, but had the same amount of points (34) as 6th place Arsenal and 7th place Liverpool. Everton had the 5th position with 38.

    To me, it appeared clear that Pete distraction parlayed out onto the pitch (certainly subjective). From the January 20th date, West Brom accrued just 15 points in their 15 remaining games. During a stretch from January 30th to March 30th, the Baggies grabbed just 10 points in 8 matches, including a frighteningly awful 3-1 defeat to West Ham. At this stage, Europe had become a fleeting memory. Now, with being in the precarious position of relegation safe (14 points clear of relegation cut at this juncture) and basically out of the Europe hunt (9 points back of 5th placed Arsenal), Clarke really had no other choice but to try different lineups in an attempt to play for 2013-2014, that meant even if it wasn’t putting out the best possible team.

    The results to the close of the season reflected these managerial changes. Just 5 points in the remaining 7 games, including a bad home loss to Wigan, and a horrific 4-0 defeat at Norwich. Thus, the final table ended with the facade that West Brom essentially barely won “Premier League B”, when in fact they had a near stranglehold throughout the duration of the season. This isn’t to say Europe was certainly in the future, but I’d like to think without the controversy which led to playing in purgatory for the final third of the season, a final result closer to 60 points wouldn’t have been out of the question. And yes, I know that any supporter can make a “what-if” case featuring their side that would have garnered them 10+ points, I just thought this was worth sharing since I hadn’t these scenarios particularly discussed in any of the previews I’ve read regarding the Baggies.

    P.S. New to the site, really enjoying the material.

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