Premier League preview – West Bromwich Albion

Last season:

Premier League: 8th

FA Cup: Third Round

League Cup: Third Round

After such a satisfying Premier League in 2012-13, West Bromwich Albion will find it difficult to improve on the eighth place finish they achieved, which was mainly due to a very consistent start to the season. But they have a settled squad that looks to have enough quality within it to consolidate once again.

Despite some poor performances in the second half of the season, Steve Clarke, in his first season as Head Coach, did an excellent job, securing Albion’s highest top-flight finish for many years and handled the situation concerning striker Peter Odemwingie admirably.

West Brom have now had a settled squad for a number of seasons, with several long-serving players, Marc-Antoine Fortune the only senior figure to have left this summer. Peter Odemwingie still has not left, although it looks unlikely that the Nigerian will play much of a role this season.

It has been quite quiet at the Hawthorns this summer, but they have made two fairly big-name signings in Nicolas Anelka and Diego Lugano. Both are vastly experienced, having spent so long at the highest level. The arrival of Anelka may help compensate for Romelu Lukaku’s return to Chelsea, and he will be expected to score around 10-15 goals this season.

Lugano adds to an already solid defence, with Gareth McAuley, last year’s player of the season, and Jonas Olsson already forming a strong rearguard. Back-up options Gabriel Tamas and England U-21 international Craig Dawson also look fairly capable replacements, meaning Albion will be an even tougher team to penetrate in 2013-14.

Goran Popov has also been brought back on another season-long loan, ensuring that there will be cover in the full-back positions. There is plenty of depth to Steve Clarke’s squad, with the only concern being in midfield. If James Morrison, Youssuf Mulumbu, or Claudio Yacob were to suffer an injury, they may struggle.

The signing of Matej Vydra, on a season-long loan from Udinese, represents an interesting deal, after the 21-year-old Czech showed his quality for Watford in the Championship last season. He adds pace that was perhaps missing in attacking areas, and it will be intriguing to see how he performs in the Premier League.

Lukaku’s return to Chelsea does represent a blow, however, as he proved on occasions to be a match-winner, and while Anelka, Vydra and Shane Long should all make valuable contributions, they do not possess the strength, nor the power, of Lukaku.

The season begins with a home game against Southampton, before a trip to Everton. Throughout the campaign there does not look to be a daunting run of fixtures ahead, although the Baggies do take on Arsenal, Manchester City, and Tottenham Hotspur in their final five matches.

But overall, West Brom look good enough to comfortably stay away from trouble, and may make the top half for a third straight season. Steve Clarke became experimental with his squad towards the end of last season with the pressure off. If he finds himself trying out various formations once again, it would have been another successful campaign.

Steve Clarke impressed last season despite being in his first managerial role

Manager – Steve Clarke: After spending so long as an assistant, the Scot has made a wonderful start to management. One more season of finishing in the top half and his stock will rise, as he would have made West Brom one of the best sides outside the top six in addition to being the top club in the West Midlands.

Key signing – Nicolas Anelka: After 18 months away from the Premier League in China and Italy Anelka is back to lead Albion’s attack, but, at 34, he would do well to be as effective as Romelu Lukaku was last season. With good service though, he still has the ability to score plenty of goals.

Key sale – Romelu Lukaku: Although not technically a sale, the Belgian, on loan from Chelsea, was a major factor behind West Brom’s eighth place finish last season, scoring 17 Premier League goals and often proving to be a match-winner. His return to Stamford Bridge leaves Steve Clarke lacking a physical presence in attack.

Keep an eye out for…Matej Vydra: His performances in the Championship last season for Watford helped him claim the second tier’s Player of the Year award. He scored 22 goals and showed that he could comfortably make the step up to the Premier League. At 21, he looks to have an excellent future ahead of him.

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