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.
Should Ben Foster be in the England World Cup squad?
With Joe Hart out of form could Foster head to Russia despite Baggies struggles.
England are heading to the World Cup this summer with one very significant problem position – goalkeeper.
The current number one is Joe Hart. His loan spell at West Ham United has been a disaster. His poor form saw him dropped for Adrian. England do have good young options. Everton’s Jordan Pickford and Stoke City’s Jack Butland look likely to be on the plane. In terms of experience however, England are lacking. Tom Heaton of Burnley has spent much of the season on the sidelines with a shoulder injury. His deputy Nick Pope has been brilliant, but has no England experience.
Gareth Southgate should therefore try and convince a West Brom player out of retirement.
Whilst most of the Baggies players this season certainly don’t deserve a place at the World Cup this summer, one that might is goalkeeper Ben Foster.
The 34-year-old has been in his usual consistent form for West Brom this season. If England decide that Joe Hart should be left behind then experience will be necessary. Based on form, that should be the case. Hart has been poor this term and his confidence appears to be shot.
Foster would be a perfect replacement. He is a no-nonsense option whose eight caps for England do not represent his talent. He is excellent at claiming crosses and quick off his line. His injury record goes some way to highlighting that bravery is one of his best attributes. When it comes to shot-stopping he can’t quite rival Butland or Pickford, but he is no slouch.
He has previously made himself unavailable for the England team, after a series of injury troubles. This summer England boss Southgate must consider asking him to re-enter the fold once again. He could be the guiding stopper for Pickford and Butland in Russia whilst Hart takes some much needed time away from the national team.
Bringing in Foster to the England fold again might be the best option for all parties this summer.
Three reasons West Brom are facing the realistic possibility of relegation
With West Bromwich Albion languishing at the foot of the Premier League table, seven points from safety, Martyn Cooke investigates the three factors that are likely to lead to relegation for the Baggies this season.
It is fair to say that the events of the past two weeks have signalled another low point for West Bromwich Albion in what has been an increasingly turbulent and chaotic season that, barring a repeat of the 2005 ‘great escape’, appears set to culminate in relegation.
On the pitch a heavy defeat against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge left the Baggies rooted to the foot of the Premier League table, seven points shy of safety, whilst any temporary relief that an FA Cup run may have provided was swiftly ended after Southampton’s victory at The Hawthorns.
The immediate future looks bleak and it will take a herculean effort from Alan Pardew and his players in the closing months of the season to preserve the club’s top-flight status.
However, West Brom appear determined to complicate matters for themselves by continuously shooting themselves in the foot through controversies, accusations and sackings off the pitch.
Owner Lai Guochuan wielded the axe by sacking his two most senior executives last week, with chairman John Williams and chief executive Martin Goodman both paying the price for the Albion’s nightmare season.
On the same day it was revealed that four senior players had broken a club curfew during their warm weather training camp in Spain and were accused of stealing a taxi following a late-night drinking session, although none of them will face legal action due to a lack of evidence, reports BBC Sport.
The club now stands on the brink of relegation with uncertainty in the boardroom and off-field antics by senior players underpinning a campaign that has been characterised by poor performances on the pitch.
Here, The Boot Room highlights three reasons why the Baggies are facing a return to the Championship.
Managerial sackings, appointments and mistakes(?)
When Tony Pulis arrived at the Hawthorns in January 2015 he became the club’s fourth manager in the space of a year, yet the former Stoke City and Crystal Palace boss was able to achieve a moderate amount of success whilst in charge of the club.
The 60-year-old led The Baggies to 13th, 14th and 10th in the Premier League table during his first three seasons and the club also made a bright start to the current campaign.
However, Pulis will always remain a somewhat divisive figure for the style of play that he employs, which results in a team that is defensively solid but is reliant on long, direct balls into isolated forward players.
It is the kind of football that is unattractive and unappealing to supporters, yet there is a willingness to accept it as long as it generates results.
Therefore it came as little surprise that West Brom fans, and subsequently the club hierarchy, lost patience with Pulis after a run of 10 games without a win in the autumn.
However, his arrival has failed to stimulate an upturn in results or performances at The Hawthorns and the 56-year-old has secured just one win from his first 13 Premier League contests.
There was an almost unanimous agreement around the club that it was the right decision to sack Pulis, but Pardew’s failure to transform the club’s fortunes has left many external onlookers questioning whether the Welshman would have been a better bet to guide the Baggies to safety.
A more pertinent question perhaps is why Pardew was seen as the best choice for the role in the first place?
It appears that the decision to appoint him combined with continuing poor results has cost chairman John Williams and chief executive Martin Goodman their jobs.
A lack of goals
The primary issue for West Bromwich Albion on the pitch this season has been their inability to find the back of the net.
The Baggies have scored just 21 goals in the Premier League this season and only one other team, Swansea City, have found the net less this campaign.
The club has been desperately short of quality in the final third and simply lack an out-and-out goal scorer to convert the handful of chances that are created by a relatively uninspiring midfield unit.
Salomon Rondon has led the forward line for much of the campaign but has been increasingly isolated, inconsistent and simply does not look confident in front of goal.
Meanwhile, Jay Rodriguez, who arrived in the summer form Southampton, missed a large chunk of the season through injury but has shown glimpses of returning to form.
The pair have scored just four Premier League goals each this term – a poor return from two players who have performed much better in previous years.
West Brom’s struggles are highlighted by the fact that Jonny Evans and Ahmed Hegazi, two central defenders, are the club’s next highest scorers.
The arrival of Daniel Sturridge on loan from Liverpool in January was supposed to solve Alan Pardew’s goal scoring dilemma, but the 28-year-old lasted only three minutes on his first start against Chelsea before limping off with a hamstring injury.
It is unclear how much direct involvement the striker will have for the remainder of the season and the club’s decision to place all of their eggs in one basket appears to have backfired badly.
The poor performances on the pitch this season have been exacerbated by West Brom’s apparent determination to stumble from one controversy to the next off of it.
First, the club were left shocked after the FA charged striker Jay Rodriguez with ‘using abusive and/or insulting words, which included a reference to ethnic origin and/ or colour and/or race’ after an incident with Brighton and Hove Albion defender Gaetan Bong last month, as reported by the Birmingham Mail.
Both the club and the striker vehemently deny any allegations of wrong doing, but it simply adds to the feeling around the Hawthorns that nothing is going right this season.
It was then revealed that four senior players missed a club curfew during the Baggies’ warm weather training camp in Spain last week and that they had been accused of stealing a taxi.
Gareth Barry, Jonny Evans, Jake Livermore and Boaz Myhill were interviewed, but not arrested by police after the incident and are unlikely to be charged due to a lack of evidence.
The quartet have since publicly apologised for their behaviour, whilst Alan Pardew admitted that the actions of his players were “unacceptable” and that he “felt a bit let down”.
The constant deluge of issues on and off the field has left West Brom supporters just wondering what else can go wrong for them this season.
Chelsea 3-0 West Bromwich Albion: Three talking points from Stamford Bridge
Rob Meech brings us three talking points from Stamford Bridge as an Eden Hazard inspired Chelsea dismantled a struggling West Bromwich Albion side.
Chelsea eased the pressure on Antonio Conte after a brace from Eden Hazard saw off basement boys West Bromwich Albion at Stamford Bridge.
It had been a troubling week for the Blues, following back-to-back heavy defeats against Bournemouth and Watford that had cast serious doubts over Conte’s position as manager.
But Hazard netted twice, either side of a goal from Victor Moses to complete a routine victory over the Baggies, who lost loan star Daniel Sturridge to injury after just three minutes.
Chelsea leapfrog Tottenham Hotspur into fourth spot as the battle for the top four heats up, while West Brom remain seven points adrift of safety.
Here are three talking points…
Talismanic Hazard comes to the rescue again
Just days after he was voted as Belgium’s player of the year by his peers, Hazard underlined his ability as a footballer of rare class with another brace to take his tally to 11 for the season.
Chelsea’s number 10 has an excellent scoring record against West Brom, one which he improved upon with a display that was too good for the Baggies to handle.
Hazard is a talismanic performer and when he hits his straps, the rest of the team feed off him.
Hazard combined with new boy Olivier Giroud to slam home his first of the evening, which eased the tension at Stamford Bridge.
The 27-year-old added his second and rounded off the scoring late in the second half, slamming the ball past visiting keeper Ben Foster.
Back in the top four as a result of this victory, Hazard will be the key to Chelsea’s hopes of qualifying for next season’s Champions League.
With him in their ranks, anything is possible.
Conte relieved as the pressure lifts
One man who will be extremely grateful for Hazard’s dazzling display is Conte.
The Italian seemed to be on the brink after last week’s 4-1 loss to Watford, which came hot on the heels of a similarly catastrophic result at home to Bournemouth.
Conte’s prickly demeanour and comments in press conferences had led some to speculate that he was goading the Chelsea board into sacking him, less than a year after he steered the club to the Premier League title.
Either way, it’s clear he retains the full support of the Stamford Bridge faithful, which was vocal in its support for Conte throughout the game, chanting his name with regularity.
Conte himself was typically demonstrative on the touchline, bellowing instructions and celebrating each of the goals as his players repaid him with an improved performance.
Whether he will be in the dugout next season remains to be seen, but for now at least his job is more secure than it was a week ago.
Sturridge’s World Cup audition falls flat
In front of watching England manager Gareth Southgate, Sturridge would have been hopeful of making a positive impression following his shock move to West Brom in the January window.
The Liverpool striker made the switch in order to enhance his prospects of making the World Cup squad, which will be named in little over three months’ time.
Few doubt Sturridge’s quality, but his fragile body continually struggles to hold up under the intensity of Premier League football.
His withdrawal due to a hamstring strain less than three minutes on the clock was a monumental blow, both to him personally and West Brom’s ambitions of springing a surprise against Chelsea.
Although he is expected to be sidelined for only a couple of weeks, this latest setback again raises questions over his durability.
Sturridge’s opportunities to prove he deserves to be on the plane to Russia are fast running out.
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