West Bromwich Albion have personified the term “yo-yo club” over the last decade in the Premier League, having been relegated three times. This is their fourth shot at the Premier League since 2000, but hopes of securing top tier status for a second season running will be slim. Roberto Di Matteo, one of the brightest young managers in the English leagues, will be hoping his side can reproduce the amazing 2004/05 season when they avoided relegation on the last day of the campaign, despite having the worst record of any Premier League team who avoided the drop (six wins and 34 points).
West Brom have been stuck in the middle for a long time; too good for the Championship, not good enough for the Premier League. It’s not an enviable task Di Matteo is faced with, but a taster of Premier League managership that he’ll relish. The former Chelsea midfielder has spent his coaching career in the lowers leagues, first with MK Dons before working up to the Hawthorns where he got promoted in his first attempt. Now, somewhat all of a sudden, he is a Premier League manager. It certainly was a meteoric rise, and hopefully not one that shot too soon for the 40-year-old.
They’ve always found the Championship level pretty easy, and have consistently been comfortable in the league for the past twenty years or so. When they have been relegated, they’ve shot back to form, scored a bagful of goals and regained another shot at the big time. Rinse, and repeat. Will it be fourth time lucky? It’s hard to say yes, but miracles could happen – just ask the fans who witnessed one of the best final match-days back in 2005.
Last Season: 2nd in Championship
Manager: Roberto Di Matteo
In Gabriel Tamas (Auxerre, £800,000), Pablo Ibáñez (Atlético Madrid, free), Steven Reid (Blackburn, free)
Out Jonathan Greening (Fulham, free), Joss Labadie (Tranmere Rovers, free), Luke Daniels (Bristol Rovers, season loan), Robert Koren (released), Andwele Slory (released), Filipe Teixeira (released)
Di Matteo has handed the door to a couple of squad players, while adding three new players into the fold.
Probably the biggest move is the one of Steven Reid, who joins from Blackburn on a free transfer. The Irish international had a spell on loan at the Hawthorns last season, and has made that switch permanently. Had it not been for injuries, Steven would have had a fine career in the Premier League – as well as being a regular in international football. A Premier League revival could be on the cards for the 29-year-old this season.
Another exciting addition to the squad is 28-year-old Spanish defender Pablo Ibáñez from Atletico Madrid. Pablo has made 23 caps for the Spanish national side, and has been a regular at the back for Atletico, bringing plenty of quality and experience into the side. He was also a part of Spain’s 2006 World Cup run, but hasn’t been involved in their recent successes.
West Brom have also acquired the services on another international of a permanent basis – Romanian international Gabriel Tamaş. The former Auxerre, Galatasaray and Spartak Moscow defender has been somewhat of a journey-man, but may have settled in the North-West after a promising loan spell last season where he played 23 games. The man with 46 caps to his name cost WBA £800,000.
Leaving the club include Jonathon Greening, who joins Fulham on a free after spending time on loan there last season, as well as Felipe Teixeira and Robert Koren, despite playing a part in Slovenia’s World Cup this summer.
Overall, it’s been a good summer at West Brom, even if two out of their three signings were there on loan last season. In Reid, Pablo and Tamaş – Di Matteo has three good international players who will be vital for staying up next season.
Tactics: Di Matteo worked with a 4-4-2 formation in the early half of last season, before altering to a 4-5-1 formation which should be expected in the Premier League for this season. It’s quite similar to the Ghana setup at the World Cup, with an isolated forward and everyone else playing well back, mixing with pressing and staying back. West Brom have a good squad, and there are quite a few international players to choose from. It is also open to good versatility, and with plenty of options at the back in particularly. Up front, however, it’s very thin and they’ll struggle for goals. After Chile’s much talked about World Cup, Gonzalo Jara should anchor the midfield, with bright young DR Congo international Youssuf Mulumbo helping to hold back. Reid is equally adaptable to play at right back, so will provide a sufficient shield on the right of midfield, or in the centre if he’s put there. Overall, expect a system based on negativity and not conceding goals.
Key Player: West Brom’s key player is goalkeeper and captain Scott Carson. After starting out at Leeds and Liverpool, via a brief loan spell at Aston Villa, the once England international has been a rock steady ‘keeper for the Baggies – his outstanding performances must be emulated for them to have any chance against Premier League opposition.
Fixtures: It’s not a nice start to life for West Brom back in the Premier League – Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. After possibly the worst opening tie imaginable, WBA host Sunderland at the Hawthorns before another daunting trip a week later – to Anfield. After playing Liverpool it’s a tough game against Spurs at home, before hosting Birmingham.
First five fixtures: Chelsea (A), Sunderland (H), Liverpool (A), Tottenham (H), Birmingham (H)
Where will they finish? It’s going to be a mountainous task to stay in the Premier League again. With so many squads improving, West Brom will need to pick up as many wins against the low opposition as they can and hope for the best against the big teams to have any chance of winning the dogfight at the bottom. But with the toughest start imaginable, it might be beyond them again. They won’t concede as often as previous times, but won’t score much at all with so little options in attack. 19th