Before the beginning of the 2016/17 season, the most obvious conundrum for West Bromwich Albion boss Tony Pulis was to solve the lack of goals at the Hawthorns. Though typical Pulis teams are known in their penchant for defending well, taking their opportunity when it comes and seeing out a game 1-0, the Baggies managed to score a paltry 34 goals in their 38 Premier League fixtures last season.
£12 million signing Jose Salomon Rondon, at the time their record recruit, only managed to score ten goals in all competitions for the Black Country outfit throughout the 2015/16 campaign, whilst Rickie Lambert and Saido Berahino managed only eight goals between them. With another season condemned to mid-table obscurity, eventually finishing 14th, it suffices to say that the ambitions of the club have changed somewhat ever since a Chinese investment group headed by Guochuan Lai took control of the club in August.
With the subsequent investment ideal for Pulis to craft a side capable of finishing higher up the table, the changes were rung: out went James Chester and Rickie Lambert to Aston Villa and Cardiff City respectively for nominal fees, Cristian Gamboa headed off to Celtic, Anders Lindegaard joined Preston on a free, and Stephane Sessegnon and Victor Anichebe were also sent on their way. In came Watford defender Allan Nyom, Reading’s Hal Robson-Kanu- who enjoyed a sensational Euro 2016 with Wales – and QPR’s exciting winger Matt Phillips. Left-back Brendan Galloway was also brought back to the Hawthorns on loan from Everton, before Pulis broke the club’s transfer record once again with the £13million signing of Belgian international winger Nacer Chadli from Tottenham Hotspur.
The latter of those signings particularly seems to have gone some way toward complimenting the Albion’s faltering firepower. Chadli arrived three games into the season before the transfer deadline, with the Baggies recording a win, a loss and a defeat with two goals scored in their opening three. Not exactly the improvement in attack that Pulis will have had in mind. After an EFL cupset to Northampton, where the Baggies bowed out on penalties, and another blank in the league in a 1-0 defeat at Bournemouth, it all came together for Pulis’ side last week as they romped to an eventual 4-2 win over a defensively fragile West Ham United at the Hawthorns. New signing Nacer Chadli bagged a brace and set up the other two for Salomon Rondon and James McClean, the former has registered two goals already this season, and Pulis will be hoping there is more to come from the Venezuelan.
Six goals in five league games and eight goals in six matches in all competitions does make for much better reading, but with two blanks out of those matches where the Baggies have failed to score, the debate rages on at the West Midlands club as to whether Pulis’ bolstered forward line is really the finished article. The creativity of McClean, plus new signings Chadli and Phillips behind lone-forward Rondon, is more than capable of wreaking havoc as shown in the game against West Ham. This match however was one where the Albion were dominated in possession, but they showed an opportunists’ streak and ruthlessly punished their opponents for their defensive shortcomings. Against more quality opposition, they may not be able to rely on that and may need more in the final third if they are to overcome better sides.
To strengthen his forward line further, one touted solution had been that of former Bordeaux, Arsenal and Crystal Palace forward Marouane Chamakh, who is currently a free agent. Pulis was known to be interested in the forward over the summer, though the signing of course never came, but with the Albion needing to have sufficient firepower until January, could the Morocco international have been the man to iron out the creases?
Of course, the positive result against the Hammers suggests improvement, but the Baggies’ opportunism may have papered over some cracks. Pulis needs more from a forward of Rondon’s price and stature and the arrival of another forward may relieve some pressure from the Venezuelan as the club’s main source of goals. The void left by the ineffective Rickie Lambert still, of course, needs filling, and with a vacancy there for a forward, Chamakh could have proven an astute addition.
Of course his recent record doesn’t suggest that he is the goalscorer that Albion need at the club. He scored no goals in 12 appearances for Crystal Palace in 2015/16, and managed just ten in his prior two seasons as a Palace player in all competitions. Between 2011 and 2014 he scored only three goals in 28 appearances for Arsenal. His breakthrough season in England, 2010/11, was his most successful in the Premier League.
The now 32-year-old netted 12 goals in 45 appearances in all competitions, with the majority coming from the bench. At first glance not convincing, but he does know where the goal is as shown by his form in the Champions League with Bordeaux, which attracted Arsenal’s interest. The Moroccan notched five goals in the 2009/10 tournament, including strikes against Bayern Munich, Juventus and Olympique Lyonnais.
In recent years, however, the forward’s dip in form can also be put down to a lack of reasonable game time. The striker needs a springboard to go out and get minutes under his belt in order to perform, and with West Bromwich Albion a club in need of forwards, perhaps Tony Pulis could have provided him with one. After an unsuccessful spell with Palace, it would be a gamble on the club’s part, but with the creativity of an attacking trio getting better with every game, and the support of another forward, there are areas from which the 32-year-old can expect to profit in front of goal.
With reasons to believe Albion’s frontline is still ever so slightly less than the finished product, there would have been no harm in adding another forward to their ranks, even if he has been less than prolific in England. The largest part of his appearances for Arsenal and Palace have been from the bench, and a run of games may just be the tonic to get the Moroccan scoring goals once again.
Pulis could have done far worse than add to his firepower before January, but after seeing his side dismantle West Ham last week, the Welshman may just be swayed into thinking his side have made a definitive step in the right direction and are now in the perfect place until the transfer window.
With injuries and suspensions yet to affect the Baggies, however, any loss to their forward players could prove a real issue, so it may have been a better move for Pulis to add to his side before January to account for that. He could ill-afford to lose Rondon, and with an unhappy Saido Berahino the only senior option in reserve, having another striker on the books may be necessary rather than simply an option.
In Chamakh, he had a candidate who he can nurture back towards form. Therefore, bringing him in may have been a gamble that not only will give the player what he needs, but could have paid dividends for the club when the Moroccan has to stand up and be counted. He has proven in the past that he can deliver on the big occasion, all he needs is a chance to do so again.
Featured Image: All Rights Reserved by Ronnie Macdonald.