The 2012-13 campaign represented massive success for Steve Clarke and his outfit with the Baggies claiming a club record high eighth place finish in the Premier League. The season saw the Baggies claim some famous results and put in some scintillating performances, with a league double over Liverpool and excellent results again Chelsea, Manchester United and at White Hart Lane particular highlights.
Although it was widely recognized that this impressive showing was unlikely to be repeated, people had widely tipped West Bromwich Albion to achieve a solid mid-table finish at the very least. However, the start to the season has left little to be desired.
Three games. One point. Most worrying? No hint of a goal.
Albion’s start has been nothing short of dire and having been at all three of the first three games, I can safely say there has been a consensus among Albion fans expressing concern at the lack of creativity and drive within the team. The fact that Albion have only mustered a meagre three shots on target in the first three games is nothing short of shocking- and moreover they are yet to face a “big” Premier League Club. With no disrespect intended to Southampton and Swansea, who are now very good top ten Premier League sides, but these are the kinds of teams that Albion will be needing to pick up results against at home. And although a point and a clean sheet against Everton at Goodison Park always represents a good result- there needs to be some serious improvement at the Hawthorns if the Albion are not going to find themselves caught up in a relegation battle.
Of course, I appreciate that this is a marathon and not a sprint. It would be foolish and unreasonable to catastrophise about the season ahead. However, there are extremely worrying signs for the Albion. Lack of creativity, a worrying lack of energy and a lethargic playing style that is in stark contrast to the almost “total football” at times last season. As Birmingham Mail Journalist Chris Lepkowski puts it the team are playing as though “They have played 33 games, not three”.
The statistics don’t lie. Only one home clean sheet in the last seven games at the Hawthorns. Only six wins in the last 28 games. This is nothing short of relegation form.
Key players have looked poor in the opening games of the season, and the loss of Romelu Lukaku and now the consistently assuring presence of England Number Two (who in my opinion should be England Number One) Ben Foster, means that at this early point in the season Albion’s squad has lacked the quality of last season.
Reason to be concerned then for us Baggies of course. However, at this point in the season I would urge my fellow Albion fans to err on the side of caution when catstrophizing about our upcoming campaign.
1) Steve Clarke
I was shocked after the Swansea game, when I heard fans on the radio calling Clarke “tactically inept” and even some calling for his head. I think most would agree sacking Clarke would be ridiculous at this stage in the season. Granted, some of his decision early in the season have perplexed me, such as playing Shane Long on the wing
2) Good transfer dealings (eventually)
A good transfer deadline day has sealed some gaps in our team that desperately needed filling- with proven Premier League quality. Stephan Sessegnon is somewhat of a coup for our club at £5.5million pounds and coupled with the ever creative James Morrison will provide that missing link and creative spark the team has lacked in these weeks. Sinclair and Amalfitano on the wings provide strength and options out wide and the signing of Diego Lugano (although desperately slow) provides competition for the inseparable Olsson and McAuley at the back and although injured currently, Matej Vydra provides a decent alternative to Shane Long et al up front. Finally the “marquee man” (not Lee Camp if you’ll pardon the pun) Nicolas Anelka. I am personally skeptical at his Premier League credentials, but he looks solid enough in the Swansea game- and his presence has apparently been the catalyst for other players wanting to join the club.
3) There are worse squads than West Bromwich Albion in this division
Albion have a decent squad. The long term core of our team is of Premier League quality, and I feel that there certainly are worse squads in our division than the Albion’s. Mulumbu, Morrison, Yacob, Foster, Olsson, Sinclair, Sessegnon and Anelka all drip top flight quality and the squad actually have a deceptive amount of strength in depth.
Do I think this will be a difficult season for Albion? Yes I do. Do I think we will match the amazing efforts of last season? No I don’t. Am I worried at the current plight of the team? Naturally.
But I urge my fellow Albion fans not to panic. The 2011-12 season (under Roy Hodgson) started with a series of results even worse than this, and we finished 10th that year. This season has only just begun, and there is more than enough time to turn it around.