West Bromwich Albion’s last season was nothing short of a near-nightmare. In a year in which they lost nine places on their position from the 12/13 season, while going through three different managers, the only positive that could have been taken from the situation was that the Baggies avoided relegation.
It is pretty widely accepted that narrowly avoiding relegation is not an ideal highlight for a side with mid table aspirations, so, with the slightly surprising appointment of ex Preston and Sheffield Wednesday boss Alan Irvine, West Brom will be looking to begin the climb to the top half once again.
However, following last season’s disappointing result, many will question the plausibility of these aims. I believe West Brom could prove their doubters wrong this year, and climb back to the top half just as quickly as they fell from it. Here’s why:
1. An active transfer window
Albion have been one of the Premier League’s most active teams in this summer transfer window, and despite breaking their transfer record last month, have largely gone unnoticed.
In £10 million record signing Brown Ideye, West Brom have gained a proven goalscorer that can aid last season’s joint top scorer (and inexperienced youngster) Saido Berahino in the goal-getting stakes. With the loss of Nicolas Anelka and Shane Long midway through the season to tabloid controversy and a transfer respectively, West Brom found themselves without a true goalscorer.
This coming season, Irvine and Co can call upon the strong presence of the Nigerian to hit the back of the net. With West Brom’s mediocre defensive record and the departure of full backs Liam Ridgewell and Billy Jones, Irvine has seeked to strengthen his defensive line in preparation for next season with the signings of Andre Wisdom on loan from Liverpool and Sebastian Poconogli from Hannover in order to replace Albion’s departed.
To further improve the side, just today West Brom completed deals for Australian center-back Jason Davidson and Costa Rican full-back Cristian Gamboa. Both players shone for their respective nations this summer in Brazil.
The free transfer of Lescott to West Brom will provide a further level of experience to a team already full of veterans such as Chris Brunt, Jonas Olsson and Gareth McAuley.
West Brom are undoubtedly one of the most improved bottom half sides from last season, and this improvement in talent could translate to a better position come May.
2. Low Expectations
When Alan Irvine was announced as manager, the news was met with some confusion from Baggies fans (and indifferent shrugs from almost everyone else).
As a man with no Premier League managerial experience, many will write him off immediately; however, with little reputation comes little pressure, so Irvine and West Brom will be given a relative amount of freedom to play without the crippling expectation that often affects the managers of larger clubs (see David Moyes).
Expect to see West Brom’s team playing a more free game than they did under Pepe Mel, who found himself under serious pressure to get the Baggies out of a bad place and avoid relegation.
3. Strong existing players
If they can manage to fend off the interested teams and keep Stephane Sessegnon, West Brom will be in possession of a strong, pacy playmaker who can contribute goals also. Sessegnon – on his day – can be one of the top midfielders from a side outside the top six, so, with the introduction of a greater attacking threat, Sessegnon will play a large part in Irvine’s first season as manager.
Ben Foster is one of the most talented goalkeepers in the league, and West Brom would have been glad to sign him up for a new four year nearly two weeks ago. Despite not being a keeper of the standard of the likes of Thibaut Courtois or Hugo Lloris, Foster is certainly one of the best England has had in a while, bar Joe Hart.
In Saido Berahino West Brom have a young player many teams in the league would love to have on their roster. Pacy and versatile, the English youngster can play up front or on the wings, and given his decent performances last year, Irvine will likely call upon him to add pace in attack to provide the strong physical presence of Brown Ideye.
With these few standout players teaming up with Albion’s wealth of new signings, it is likely that the team could really cement their place in the top half this season.