West Brom is an interesting case. With Tony Pulis leading the way, the Baggies have not truly flirted with relegation since their 17th-place finish in 2014 that saw them finish just three points above the drop. But with finishes of 13th, 14th, and 10th since then, what exactly defines a successful season for the Baggies?
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Premier League obscurity is not a bad thing anymore. With the massive amounts of cash that come with a spot in the English top flight, a long stretch of bottom-half finishes could see the club amass money to eventually become a major player in the market. Clearly, West Brom is biding its time until the club can make a serious move, although the risky acquisition of Jay Rodriguez proves ambition. However, with teams constantly improving around them, the Baggies did little business this summer, which is worrying.
Best, worst case scenarios – The most Baggies fans can usually hope for is Premier League safety, but did last season’s 10th-placed finish change the expectations? Growth is always what any club hopes to achieve, whether it be short-term or long-term, and now fans will be looking for a top-half spot. The Baggies have just one other Premier League top-half finish ever, coming in 2012/13 just before the relegation scare. It would seem the best-case scenario would be for West Brom to match that achievement with hopes of long-term growth from there.
Worst-case would see this club relegated. There is no true star-power on the squad, and while Tony Pulis has a steady ship currently, it’s not hard to envision a few poor results spiraling things out of control.
Best possible XI is…
Dawson — Evans — McAuley — Nyom
Livermore — Yacob
Phillips — Morrison — Chadli
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Transfers In: Jay Rodriguez (Southampton, $16 million), Ahmed Hegazy (Al Alhy, Loan).
— 10th place in Premier League
— FA Cup 3rd Round (lost to Derby County)
— League Cup 2nd Round (lost to Northampton Town)
Star Player: Matt Phillips — With Nacer Chadli struggling for consistency on a team that utilizes the flanks, Matt Phillips is the engine to the machine. With nine assists last season to lead the team in his first season with the Baggies, Phillips is a critical part of a team that doesn’t attack a whole lot.
Unfortunatley, Phillips tweaked his hamstring in preseason, and according to manager Tony Pulis, it could be related to repeated back problems the 26-year-old struggles with. If those two problems keep him out for any significant amount of time, West Brom will have to lean on Chadli, who flashes brilliance at times but also tends to disappear quite often. That was evident last season when he made 31 Premier League appearances, but only completed the full 90 minutes 10 times. This team needs Phillips.
Coach’s Corner: Tony Pulis — Pulis has provided a steady presence wherever he goes. He locks teams down, turns them into a disciplined machine, and grinds out results. West Brom sorely needed his presence when he arrived, and now growth seems attainable. The 59-year-old doesn’t bring an exciting style of play, but occasionally the excitement arrives in the surprising results. Last season, the Baggies took care of business against teams below them and upset Arsenal down the stretch.
PST Predicts: The key this season is to stay healthy and avoiding long stretches of failure. If Phillips is indeed injured for a while, there’s not much depth for the Baggies to fall back on. Most worrying is the nine-match winless run to finish the season last year, which featured seven losses. Often, that can be a harbinger of how things will go the following campaign, especially considering the squad hardly turned over this summer. It would be great to see Tony Pulis take this team into the top half two years in a row, but more likely they will end up looking over their shoulders in 14th.