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West Bromwich Albion

How can Alan Pardew use the January transfer window to re-invigorate West Brom?

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West Brom
Photo: Reuters

Alan Pardew will have been under no illusions as to the scale of the task at hand when taking the helm from Tony Pulis at West Bromwich Albion.

Financial Fair Play (FFP) continues to closely monitor the club’s heavy investment in bringing in players, investment which has thus far failed to bear fruit for a Baggies side that has scored just 16 goals in their opening 22 Premier League games, conceding 30.

Such a run has left Albion in the bottom three with a meagre 16 points, four from safety with just two wins and ten draws to their name all season.

Pardew hasn’t managed to register a victory in the league as of yet, but has helped stem the tide somewhat with four draws from his eight matches in charge, including three clean sheets.

The FA Cup Third Round yielded a confidence-boosting first win in charge for the new manager. However, the Baggies putting in a professional performance to see of League Two high-flyers Exeter City in a 2-0 away victory.

Question marks remain as to just how much Pardew will have his hands tied by FFP regulations, but the areas in need of strengthening are strikingly obvious.

Goal-shy Albion lack a prolific goalscorer, and seeking out a match-winner will likely be first on the list of Pardew’s priorities, whilst the experienced boss will almost certainly be looking to add reinforcements to his leaky defence, particularly with the ever-present and reliable Jonny Evans continuing to be linked with a move away from the Hawthorns this January.

Addressing the club’s profligacy in front of goal first, Pardew still has a wealth of options to pursue in January, despite the recent blow of transfer target Cedric Bakambu, currently of Villarreal, opting to sign for Chinese Super League side Beijing Guoan. One such option, which may just prove a shrewd move on Albion’s part, is Liverpool forward Danny Ings.

Competition is inevitable in the Baggies’ bid to acquire the former Burnley and Bournemouth forward’s services, with the Reds prepared to allow Ings to leave on loan in a bid to re-ignite his career following a serious knee injury.

Ings netted 11 goals in his last full-season in the Premier League for Burnley back in 2014/15, with his last top-flight appearance coming against the Baggies on the final day of the 2015/16 campaign. Such a goal ratio would prove a useful contribution to Pardew’s squad, with both Jay Rodriguez and Salomon Rondon struggling for consistency in front of goal.

Pardew has made no secret of his interest in adding the Liverpool man to his forward-line, whilst the forward has also attracted interest from former Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez, who is keen on bolstering his attacking options at Newcastle.

It is not the only transfer target on Albion’s radar that the Magpies are attempting to shoe-in on either, if reports from ESPN are to be believed, with both clubs believed to be in the market for Red Star Belgrade forward Richmond Boayke.

Despite failing to make the grade at Everton’s Europa League conquerors Atalanta, and only putting pen to paper on a permanent deal with Serbian outfit Red Star Belgrade in the summer, Boayke is one option that Pardew could pursue to remedy his side’s lack of cutting edge.

The Ghanaian has netted 17 times for club and country in the opening six months of Red Star’s season, including a purple patch of eight goals in three league matches.

Known for his pace and power, ESPN linked the Baggies with a move for Boayke back in December, with Albion scouts thought to have been in attendance during Red Star’s goalless Europa League draw with Bundesliga side Cologne. Both clubs face heavy competition for the forward, however, with the London Evening Standard linking Boayke with a move to Chelsea.

One option that would suit West Brom’s style of play particularly well is Bournemouth forward Benik Afobe, with the Daily Express linking Albion and local rivals Wolves with a January move for the forward back in September.

Afobe had seemingly fallen down the pecking order at the Vitality Stadium following the return to fitness of Callum Wilson and the arrival of Jermain Defoe from Sunderland, but injury to the latter has thrust Afobe back into Eddie Howe’s plans over the festive period and the Cherries may be unwilling to allow him to leave in such circumstances.

Should Pardew’s pursuit of either of that forward trio prove fruitless, an alternative option may be that of Sheffield Wednesday striker Gary Hooper, whom the Baggies were linked to  back in October, alongside fellow strugglers Crystal Palace and Brighton.

The forward picked up an injury in Wednesday’s Boxing Day victory at Nottingham Forest and hasn’t featured since, but has netted eleven goals already this campaign and could prove a clever investment upon his return to fitness.

With Wednesday’s promotion bid seemingly off the rails, with the club 16th in the Championship and having sacked manager Carlos Carvalhal, the Owls’ resolve to hold onto their main man could be seriously tested if Albion were to come in with a bid.

Hooper certainly has the goalscoring pedigree to succeed in the Premier League, having featured in the top-flight for Norwich in the past as well as having a hat-full of Champions League goals to his name from his time with Scottish giants Celtic, but the biggest doubt hanging over a move will be regarding when the forward will be match-fit again.

In spite of such permutations in the market, two attacking options do remain realistic for the Baggies. With Newcastle United content to provide competition for Albion targets, Pardew may well be tempted to pull off an audacious raid on St. James’ Park for out-of-favour striker Aleksandar Mitrovic.

The Serb is known to desire a move away from Tyneside this month in pursuit of regular football having made just six appearances for the Magpies this season.

With opportunities scarce under Benitez, should Mitrovic attempt to force through a move, a bid may just tempt much-maligned Newcastle owner Mike Ashley to part ways with Mitrovic for a fee, even if it was to a Premier League relegation rival.

One Premier League club that may well be willing to part with a forward in Albion’s favour is Leicester City, with question marks looming over the future of their £30 million Algerian striker Islam Slimani.

The former Sporting Lisbon hit-man has fallen down the pecking order at the King Power Stadium since the departure of Claudio Ranieri last season, and hasn’t been helped by Shinji Okazaki’s recent return to form and the summer arrival of Kelechi Iheanacho from Manchester City.

Albion were monitoring the forward back in 2016 before he opted to sign for Leicester, and Pardew could do worse than attempt to lure the forward across the Midlands, particularly since his New Year’s Day strike against Huddersfield showcased that Slimani still has much to offer in the Premier League.

Time will tell on that front, however, as to whether that performance has subsequently propelled him back into the plans of Foxes boss Claude Puel.

Shifting focus to Pardew’s need to strengthen his defensive options, despite Jonny Evans’ future remaining uncertain, he appears in no panic to recruit a centre-half, following Ahmed Hegazi’s arrival in the summer and Gareth McAuley’s successful return to the side against Exeter.

The Baggies do notably lack depth in the right-back position though, with Craig Dawson having only recently returned to fitness, and Allan Nyom being the only natural alternative option in the position.

With Evans linked with a move to Arsenal, French outlet L’Equipe suggests that Albion may look for the Gunners to return the favour, in allowing them to sign French right-back Mathieu Debuchy.

With no Premier League appearances to his name this season, Debuchy is thought to be keen for a move away from the Emirates in the hope of forcing himself back into Didier Deschamps’ plans for the French National Team ahead of the World Cup, having missed out on Euro 2016 due to injury, and a switch to the Hawthorns could prove the ideal opportunity should Pardew make an approach.

Another realistic target at full-back, should the club approach him, is that of Stoke City defender Glen Johnson.

The Sun linked Pardew with a move for the capped England international in late December, who has fallen out of favour at Stoke City, having made a meagre four appearances for the Potters and not featured at all since October, with Geoff Cameron and youngster Tom Edwards preferred.

Johnson, a natural right-back who has also played on the left-side of defence in the past, is thought to favour a move away from relegation threatened Stoke, who recently parted company with under-fire manager Mark Hughes. The only potential spanner in the works of this transfer would be if Hughes’ successor sees fit to recall the full-back to the first-team picture at Bet365 Stadium.

Should Pardew have the capacity to invest in the full-back position this month, he may be tempted to turn to the Championship for more youthful options and build for the future at the Hawthorns.

An audacious approach would be to go knocking on the door of local rivals and league leaders Wolves in pursuit of their flying right-back Conor Coady, or alternatively Pardew could go on the hunt in South Yorkshire, with Barnsley right-back Andy Yiadom also an option.

£2.5 million rated Yiadom, formerly of League Two club Barnet, has gone from strength to strength since his move to Oakwell, and the Daily Mirror claimed back in November via the Birmingham Mail that the Baggies were closely monitoring the defender during Tony Pulis’ reign, with the club’s technical director Nicky Hammond attending the Tykes’ 4-2 home victory over Burton Albion in the Championship.

If Yiadom should not arrive this window, it is not inconceivable that Pardew should make a move for him in the summer at the expiration of his contract. Yiadom has already turned down a new deal with Barnsley and saw a move to Huddersfield fall through during the summer transfer window of 2017.

As for Coady, a move across the Black Country is the more unlikely of Pardew’s possible options, although The Sun did report that the Baggies and Newcastle United were monitoring the Wolves full-back following Nuno Espirito Santo’s Carabao Cup exit at Manchester City on penalties.

The former Liverpool and Sheffield United man has recently signed a new contract at Wolves and is valued at around £7 million.

Should Pardew bear the brunt of FFP in his bid to bolster his defence, however, a shrewd and quite frankly economical move he could look to make is for former Arsenal and Manchester City right-back Bacary Sagna, who has been a free-agent since his release from the Etihad in the summer.

The 34-year-old France international has made well over 25o Premier League appearances and comes with a wealth of experience from his time with the Gunners and the Citizens, and he featured in each of France’s Euro 2016 matches as they reached the final on home soil before bowing to Portugal.

Sagna has been keeping himself fit during the first-half of the season and so it shouldn’t take a great deal of time to build-up match fitness. Premier League rivals West Ham have already reaped the benefits of bringing one released right-back in from City in the form of Pablo Zabaleta, and the experience of Sagna may have an equally positive effect as the Baggies attempt to stave off relegation themselves.

The scale of Pardew’s recruitment and indeed whether he has the capacity to invest heavily in reinforcements this January remains to be seen with Financial Fair Play still a potential stumbling block, but with options in abundance to pursue this transfer window in any case, he has every chance of giving the Baggies a fighting chance to remain in the Premier League.

Scott is a Port Vale fan who writes regularly for The Boot Room as a freelancer. He is a fan of several sports but most of his experience in journalism comes from football and volleyball. He has produced several works on major Championships for both the FIVB and CEV in the volleyball world out in Switzerland, and is currently studying for a BA Hons in Modern Languages at the University of Oxford.

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Manchester United

West Brom 1-2 Manchester United: Lingard affirms his status while Baggies shoots of recovery emerge

Jake Jackman

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Manchester United
Photo: Reuters

Manchester United fought off a late scare to secure three points against West Brom on Sunday.

The visitors took a two-goal lead in the first half, thanks to goals from Romelu Lukaku and Jesse Lingard. It looked to be plain sailing from there, but Alan Pardew made a couple of chances, including bringing on Chris Brunt and it increased the attacking threat of the home team.

A scramble in the penalty area resulted in Gareth Barry getting his team back into the game and the Baggies pressed for an equaliser. Ultimately they came up short, but the manner of the second half performance will improve the mood at the Hawthorns.

Here are three talking points from the match…

Jesse Lingard is establishing himself as a first-team regular

At the beginning of the season, Jesse Lingard was seen as a good squad player that could come into the team and contribute important goals. Few Manchester United supporters would have seen the attacking midfielder as a regular starter, but his performances during the last few weeks may have changed that point of view. He scored the second goal via a deflection and caused problems with his movement all afternoon.

The England international has now contributed four goals and one assist in his last five Premier League starts. He was a lot more assured in possession than usual and his confidence seems to be growing every week. Lingard finished the match with a pass success rate of 91%, including one key pass.

In the free role, he has the license to roam and his intelligent movement opens up space for other attacking players in the team. It remains to be seen if he can maintain this form over a sustained period of time, but this was another encouraging performance.

There are shoots of recovery at West Brom

Rome wasn’t built in a day and it was always likely to be a slow process for Alan Pardew to change the style of play at West Brom. Tony Pulis had been at the club for a long time and his tactics were ingrained in the playing squad. Although the new manager isn’t known for attractive football, he does like his teams to play with attacking intent. That can’t be said of the man that he replaced at the Hawthorns.

The decision to start Oliver Burke was a positive one and the former RB Leipzig winger raised excitement levels with a couple of positive runs. Although his end product wasn’t there, it provided the supporters with excitement. During the match, the home side had 12 shots to Manchester United’s eight and they weren’t afraid to commit men forward, especially in the second half. They may have lost, but there were reasons for the Baggies’ supporters to be optimistic about the future.

Antonio Valencia’s absence could spell problems

Manchester United looked a lot more open after the injury to Antonio Valencia and it would be a blow if he was missing for a long period of time as the club don’t have a natural replacement. It remains to be seen how many matches he will miss, but if he has suffered a hamstring injury, he would not be likely to return until 2018.

After Valencia went off, Jose Mourinho decided to move Ashley Young to right back and brought on Marcos Rojo at left back. Although the former has been very good during recent weeks, he isn’t as comfortable on the right-hand side of the pitch and he will be targeted. Chris Brunt had a lot of joy after coming on and the end of the match underlined the importance of Valencia. Given the right back is now 32, it is time for the club to consider replacing him as the lack of other options is a worry.

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English Premier League

Will Alan Pardew be a good appointment for West Brom?

Jake Jackman

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Pardew

West Brom made the brave decision to sack Tony Pulis last week and they have yet to appoint his replacement. This shows that it wasn’t a planned decision and the manner of recent performances forced their hand. Gary Megson has drawn his two matches as caretaker and as an ex-manager of the club, he is a safe pair of hands for the interim period. However, it was always unlikely that he would be given the job for a long period of time and recent reports suggest a permanent appointment is imminent.

The Mirror report that Alan Pardew is set to replace Pulis at the Hawthorns and that is an interesting move that is risky for both parties. The Baggies have favoured British managers in their recent history, therefore it is not surprising that they are making the decision to appoint an experienced, English manager. However, the former Newcastle United and Crystal Palace manager has been out of the game for nearly a year and his last stint in the Premier League ended awfully.

The Eagles looked set for relegation and were shipping goals with ease, which led to Sam Allardyce replacing him. There is a media narrative that Pardew struggles to arrest a slide and that trend has been evident at every club he has been at. For the initial period, he achieves good results and West Brom are appointing him to ensure they retain their top-flight status this season. The main risk comes from the long-term chances of success, as he has no track record of delivering it.

For Pardew, this is a huge risk as it is likely to be his final opportunity in the top-flight. He failed to deliver success at Newcastle and oversaw the initial decline that eventually led to their relegation in 2016. Palace appointed him as he had a good relationship with the supporters and he did manage to lead them to an FA Cup final in 2016, but his antics on the touchline are the long-lasting memory of the match, rather than the result. That marked the beginning of the end as Palace had an awful start to the 2016/17 season and he was dismissed before the new year.

During that period, his reputation took a hit and he has failed to land another job since. He has remained in the public eye by doing punditry for Sky Sports. In one sense, this opportunity has arrived at a good time for Pardew. West Brom are an established Premier League team with a very talented squad that is capable of doing more than they were under Pulis. The likes of Jonny Evans, Nacer Chadli, Grzegorz Krychowiak and Salomon Rondon have played to a high standard and are able to do more than they currently are.

It would be unfair to tarnish Pardew with the same brush as Pulis, as his teams do try to play a more attacking style. However, he has never been a reliable defensive coach and that leads to a lot of the problems that he faces. During the 2016/17 season, his Palace team kept only one clean sheet before his sacking and to underline his struggles during his final year, the Eagles lost 22 from 36 matches in 2016.

West Brom are bringing him in to improve the style of play and he has the tools to do that, but the changes he makes may create a new issue in defence. Throughout the Pulis era, the Baggies have been one of the better defensive teams outside of the top six. That trend has shifted this season, but they will have a good foundation for Pardew to build on. Initially, the defensive structure is likely to remain impressive, but this is an area of concern for the long-term.

Is he the right appointment?

Baggies’ supporters are still on a high from the decision to sack Pulis as the majority were pushing for change since the summer. Pardew will benefit from being the man to follow the Welshman as he will be given a chance to prove himself. However, it is a less exciting appointment than many supporters would have hoped for. His stock is at an all-time low after his failure with Palace and he will need to start strongly if he is to be given a fair chance.

There has been a trend in the Premier League this season to appoint experienced British managers. The media have often criticised the influx of foreign managers into the Premier League and blamed them for the lack of young, British managers coming through. However, this season, it has been the older British managers that have failed countless times before that are blocking the path to those making their way in the lower leagues.

Pardew is one of the better examples of a British manager getting another chance that is probably underserved. At Newcastle, he managed to finish 5th in one season, but the rest of his tenure was underwhelming at best. He was a pushover for Mike Ashley and allowed the club to enter a decline to the Championship. His reputation was protected as the media didn’t criticise him. Although he wasn’t sacked, he wasn’t doing a good job and the decision to move to Crystal Palace was one of self-preservation.

Throughout his career, he has always started well and survival this season should be within his capabilities, especially given the quality of the squad. However, it is an appointment that lacks ambition as the club aren’t planning for the long term. Pardew is unlikely to deliver better finishing positions than Pulis did. The football might be better to watch, but the results won’t change.

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Crystal Palace

Why are Premier League clubs so keen for managerial change?

Martyn Cooke

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Tony Pulis became the fifth Premier League manager to lose this job this season after the Welshman was dismissed by West Bromwich Albion on Monday morning.

The 59-year-old was handed his P45 after his side secured just two victories in their previous 21 fixtures and having received intense criticism from the Baggies’ supporters for the direct style of play that he promoted.

It was less than twelve months ago that Pulis was being widely applauded for the job that he was doing at the Hawthorns, but a poor start to the new campaign and the fear of being sucked into a relegation battle has promoted the West Brom hierarchy to press the eject button.

Pulis will certainly not be the last high-profile manager to be dismissed before the end of the season and he follows in the footsteps of five of his peers who survived even less time in the top-flight of English football this year than he did.

Frank de Boer was sacked by Crystal Palace after just five games in charge and was subsequently followed by the departures of Craig Shakespeare (Leicester City), Slaven Bilic (West Ham United) and Ronald Koeman (Everton).

The irony is that, barring de Boer, four of the five Premier League managers who have been dismissed had previously led their teams to safe, mid-table finishes during the previous campaign and looked, on paper at least, more than capable of turning the fortunes of the club around if given time.

The bigger irony of course is that Pulis, who retains his record of never being relegated and is something similar to a fire extinguisher for clubs that are in chaos, would probably be the perfect choice of manager to save West Brom had he not just been sacked.

Too many itchy trigger-fingers?

So why is it that the chairmen and owners at Premier League clubs are so eager to push the panic button this season? To put this year’s casualty list into context, at this stage last season only one top-flight manager had been axed.

Early results have certainly played their part.

West Bromwich Albion, Everton, West Ham United, Leicester City and Crystal Palace have all started the campaign poorly but, barring the horrendous run of results witnessed by those at Selhurst Park, four of those clubs were certainly not in danger of being cast adrift at the foot of the table.

If the same managers had been able to guide their clubs to the relative safety of mid-table last season, then why not give then the time to turn things around?

Just over a year ago Everton supporters were congratulating the club on signing a high-profile manager in Ronald Koeman. However, the Dutchman was quickly relieved of his duties when his summer signings failed to immediately gel.

Craig Shakespeare had transformed Leicester’s season last year after the Foxes were spiralling towards relegation in Claudio Ranieri’s second campaign, but he was swiftly chopped after an inconsistent start.

Slaven Bilic was widely perceived as being a fantastic appointment for West Ham – has his managerial magic really evaporated within twelve months?

It is also worth noting that none of the clubs that have sacked their manager have seen a drastic upturn in their fortunes and many have struggled to find replacements that have captured the imagination of the supporters.

Leicester appointed Claude Puel, a solid if relatively uninspiring choice, whilst West Ham have handed David Moyes a short-term contract despite his stock being at its lowest ever ebb after suffering relegation with Sunderland last season.

Meanwhile, Everton are still looking for Koeman’s replacement whilst Roy Hodgson has failed to guide Palace out of the relegation zone since his arrival.

So what next for West Brom? Sam Allardyce’s name has been mentioned, but is his brand of football any better than his predecessors?

The biggest problem facing Premier League sides outside the so-called ‘big clubs’ is that they are more competitive and closely aligned than ever before.

All of these teams are content with surviving, safe in the knowledge that there is little hope of breaking into the top six and that the financial rewards for retaining their place in the top-flight are more excessive than ever.

Staying on the Premier League gravy train is now more than important than ever before.

The early season form of the newly promoted clubs, Brighton and Hove Albion, Huddersfield Town and Newcastle United, has also added pressure to established top-flight sides – neither of the three look in any real danger of relegation.

There was once a time when newly promoted teams were destined for an immediate return to the Championship barring a minor miracle but, in truth, the Premier League is no longer the daunting prospect that it once was for new arrivals.

No wonder the chairmen and owners at established top-flight clubs are getting itchy trigger fingers.

The combined pressure of needing to retain their place in the Premier League to continue cashing-in on the financial benefits and the good form demonstrated by the newly promoted teams’ means that relegation is a danger that must be avoided at all costs.

The need for short term survival has replaced long term planning.

However, the example of Burnley has shown what patience can achieve. Sean Dyche achieved promotion to the Premier League in 2014 before suffering an immediate relegation back to the Championship.

However, the club chose to keep their faith in the 46-year-old and the result has been a second promotion and the club are currently trying to hold on to the coattails of the ‘big-six’ at the top of the table.

Sometimes change is needed, but at other times patience during the hard times will reap much sweeter rewards.

The current bottom six clubs have all been in the Premier League for at least five seasons – time will tell whether those that have already chosen to replace their manager have made the correct choice.

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