Club: West Bromwich Albion
Manager: Slaven Bilić
Current table position:
|Position||Games Played||Goal Difference||Points|
How the season has gone so far:
Currently the team are very slightly above where I’d expected them to finish. The strength of the Fulham squad coming down and Bielsa remaining at Leeds meant that despite us getting a fantastic manager in his own right the big squad rebuild meant I expected us to finish 3rd or 4th and the fact that we are 2nd and have been in the top 2 most of the season is testament to Bilić and the backroom staff as well as the players.
As expected there was a large amount of player turnover during the summer. The club had a difficult task in replacing the goals provided by Jay Rodriguez and Dwight Gayle, long serving defender Craig Dawson was sold to Watford with Stefan Johansen and Mason Holgate, first team regulars at the end of the previous season, returning to Fulham and Everton respectively. To replace the goals, Charlie Austin and Kenneth Zohore were brought in and though they haven’t set the league alight both have made some contribution to the team with Austin in particular putting in a few performances to completely change the outcome of the game, most notably against Birmingham City at St Andrews in December. Semi Ajayi was brought in after an impressive season for Rotherham and has taken like a duck in water showing a calmness on the ball and his immense physical attributes so desperately needed. Albion fan Romaine Sawyers was brought back to the club in a low cost deal and has been the ticking metronome in midfield that has offered control over the midfield. Highly rated young full back Darnell Furlong was brought in to provide some width and depth down the right hand side allowing us to address one of the big problems from last season which was a lack of width. The standout new signing has undoubtedly been Matheus Pereira, definitely in contention for player of the season he has been unplayable at times. The two loans brought in over the summer both had links to Bilić; highly rated young winger Grady Diangana was brought in from West Ham and shown expressed himself as one of the most exciting players to watch in the league and Croat Filip Krovinović was brought in from Benfica and despite a slow start he was putting in some immense performances before the season was suspended in March.
The league season has been fairly comfortable so far, the team didn’t start out brilliantly performances wise but were still playing attractive football and were picking up points, the club going into October top of the league. After Leeds inflicted the first defeat of the season on the 1st of October the club went on a 14 game unbeaten run picking up 32 points to help open up a cushion to 3rd place. An injury inflicted on Dianaga against Birmingham City however derailed the season somewhat with the club going 7 league games without a win and having the 12 point gap to 3rd on the 21st of December cut to just 2 points by the end of January. Some much needed additions were made, Callum Robinson and Kamil Grosicki were brought in, the former on loan, to try and help bring back that creative spark and Lee Peltier was signed to help try and balance the defence with Nathan Ferguson ruled out for the rest of the season. The result has been the club opening up a 6 point gap to 3rd placed Fulham for the remaining 9 games, a gap that has only ever been overcome once before in that number of games in Championship history.
Charlie Austin has produced in my opinion the best goal of the season with this half volley against Birmingham City, though Grady Diangana’s superb solo effort against Blackburn Rovers and Matheus Pereira’s sublime chipped free kick run it close. As for the best performance it’s hard to look past the 5-1 demolition of Swansea City at home in December, especially given they were unbeaten away at the time.
Key stat(s) of the season:
In terms of individual stats, Matheus Pereira has the most assists so far this season with 13. The club has also scored the joint most goals this, level with Brentford, season with 64 despite top scorer Hal Robson-Kanu only notching 10. In total, 17 outfield players have notched for us this season in the league.
Any news from the season break?:
On the pitch it has been announced that Chris Brunt will end his 13 year association with the club as he will be released at the end of the season. Off the pitch, Chris Brunt and other current and former West Bromwich Albion players have been making calls to older fans who were potentially isolated during the last couple of months. In addition, messages of support from the club helped Peter George respond while in a Covid-19 related coma.
The club have allowed NHS maternity services take place at The Hawthorns to relieve pressure on local hospitals and reassure expectant mothers in need of the services. Club chefs have also provided nearly 6,000 hot meals to vulnerable children over a 6 week period.
How will you fare financially in the future?:
The financial situation of the club makes any serious risks unlikely. Senior club staff recently took pay cuts to alleviate financial pressure with the club not needing to take up the furlough scheme or offer any players pay cuts. The club itself have an additional year of parachute payments should promotion not be achieved with last seasons accounts showing a small cash reserve available to dip in. Player sales have been net positive over the last two seasons and the club have dramatically cut the wage bill since relegation.
Expected lineup and tactics for the run in:
Thanks to the amount of depth in a variety of positions and players returning from injury I’m not sure what the preferred lineup. I would expect this team to be the one most likely to be played but due to the return to full fitness of Hegazi and Diangana this is far from certain. In addition, Austin and Robson-Kanu have shared starting responsibilities up top. The lineup also omits the likes of Matt Phillips who has played a key role this season. I am confident that the shape of the team won’t change though, one attacking full back (Gibbs/Townsend) and one defensive fullback (O’Shea/Peltier) offer balance to the attacking phases and have been utilised effectively. Pereira could be moved centrally where he has impressed to accommodate Phillips or Diangana if necessary and Brunt, Barry and Krovinovic could deputise for Sawyers and Livermore. The tight fixture congestion makes squad rotation key and having such a deep squad could provide a big advantage in the run in.
Birmingham City (H) – A local derby to kick things off, Blues are believed to only have 16 senior players available for tomorrow and their manager is due to leave at the end of the season meaning it would be typical if we lost.
Brentford (A) – A six-pointer, a win for Albion would likely mean that Brentford’s automatic hopes are over.
Sheffield Wednesday (A) – Wednesday are far from safe and may receive a points deduction meaning they are likely to be fired up.
Hull City (H) – Hull are in a bit of a crisis with their league position and shallow squad coupled with players refusing to play. On paper this looks routine but out record against teams in their position hasn’t been very good this season.
Derby County (H) – Derby could well be in a hunt for the Play-Offs by the time this game rolls around.
Blackburn Rovers (A) – Like Derby, Blackburn will likely have a lot to play for with them also pushing for a Play-Off spot.
Fulham (H) – Could well be a promotion crunch tie if Fulham get through their tough fixture list.
Huddersfield (A) – Huddersfield could well be in a fight for survival at this point and as such I would expect a fiery encounter.
QPR (H) – QPR are in a Play-Off hunt and this may well be a must win for them. Ideally though promotion would have been sorted by then so we could give Brunt a competitive send off.
Best case scenario: Champions
Worst case scenario: Absolute worst case is we drop to below 6th and miss out on the Play-Offs but realistically it would be finishing out of the top 2.
Prediction: 2nd. Leeds have a slightly easier run in than us so I’d expect them to win the league. Fulham’s tough fixture list coupled with the 6 point gap would make it difficult to overcome us with Forest and Brentford being 4 points further back with both teams having a harder run in than us.
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