Premier League Preview - West Brom
MANAGER: Steve Clarke
STADIUM: The Hawthornes (26272)
LAST SEASON: 10TH
West Bromwich Albion exceeded expectations last season to secure a respectable tenth in the Premier League - testament to the fine work from the outgoing boss Roy Hodgson. In the same way as he did at Fulham, the England boss organised and disciplined a side with a useful basic set-up and made them into an established Premier League side, one can help but wonder what he could have done at Liverpool given time.
Inheriting the side from Roberto di Matteo, a surprise departure from the Hawthornes, Hodgson crafted a well-drilled set-up that completed their ambition of a top half finish . It all looked but a pipe dream after losing four from their opening five, but Hodgson steered the ship in the right direction - leading to the season highlight of a 5-1 crushing of rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers at Molineux.
IN: Ben Foster (Birmingham, undisclosed), Markus Rosenberg (Werder Bremen, free), Claudio Yacob (Racing Club de Avellaneda, free) Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea, loan), Yassine El Ghanassy (AA Gent, loan)
OUT: Keith Andrews (Bolton, free), Joe Mattock (Sheffield Wednesday, free), Nicky Shorey (Reading, free), Marton Fulop (Astera Tripolis, free), Somen Tchoyi (released), Paul Scharner (released), Simon Cox (Nottingham Forest, undisclosed)
A new season with a new man at the helm - Steve Clarke joins the Baggies from Liverpool. After being tainted with the perennial number two tag, the Scotsman takes a step out of the shadow and straight into Premier League action - a gamble by West Brom, but nevertheless it could prove fruitful if only to use his top flight contacts.
A well-respected coach, Clarke has already been able to capture Markus Rosenberg and Romelu Lukaku, two highly sought after strikers in Europe, to help compliment the already lively Peter Odemwingie. The new boss will be hoping he can match the discipline of Hodgson's existing set-up with the flair that new attack-minded players will bring.
KEY PLAYER: Romelu Lukaku
The Belgian forward came to England with a fine reputation, but has failed to set the world alight thus far after being granted minimal chances at Chelsea. Steve Clarke has perhaps tapped into some Chelsea connections to get hold of Lukaku, and this could be a rebirth for the forward whose career has simmered a little.
The competitive nature of the Premier League this campaign will mean that Albion will have to fight harder than ever to secure a top-half finish, and to my mind in another period of transition, they will fall just short of this mark but purport a more exciting brand of football.
Clarke is a disciplinarian and will undoubtedly want to work on defensive shape, but to what extent Albion will be able to compete consistently with some emerging Premier League sides will be open to debate. In truth I believe this prediction to be a worst case scenario for the Baggies as the potential is there to secure a top half berth once more.
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