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West Bromwich Albion 2015/16 Premier League Season Preview

The Boot Room

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West Bromwich Albion go into their sixth consecutive season in the Premier League on the back of a 13th-placed finish under the guidance of a manager who has never been relegated. Tony Pulis; who joined the club at the turn of 2015, will be eager to assemble his own side after inheriting a squad containing 10 of Alan Irvine’s signings that; Lescott apart, have all struggled. A recent takeover from a Chinese consortium failed to materialise so Jeremy Peace remains the owner going into the new season, doubtless with debatably realistic ambitions of replicating the 11/12 and 12/13 seasons by finishing in the top 10.

Story of Last Season

Seven defeats in Alan Irvine’s last nine games brought an end to an unpopular six months at the helm for the former Preston manager. After the surprising sacking of Steve Clarke and the bizarre appointment of Pepe Mel (who spoke little-to-no English and was not afforded any Spanish-speaking staff), supporters wanted a statement of intent with a bold appointment. They envisaged a Sean Dyche, an Eddie Howe or; though nobody would admit it now as he manages three miles down the road, Tim Sherwood. Irvine, a well liked and respected coach among the football community, was the conservative choice. In truth, Irvine never received fan backing and it was no surprise he received his P45 after a 2-0 defeat to Stoke with the club sitting only two points clear of relegation in 16th place. Tony Pulis was appointed, Darren Fletcher was signed and the Baggies pulled away from the bottom 3 to finish 9 points clear of the drop. Saido Berahino continued his rapid improvement and looks to be developing into a superb Premier League striker scoring 20 goals in all competitions – his 20 yard curled finish against Chelsea the pick of the bunch. Defensively West Bromwich Albion were an impressive outfit, boasting 16 Premier League clean sheets bettered only by champions Chelsea, as Pulis assembled an increasingly strong unit at the back.

Transfers In

James McClean – Signed for £1.5m from Wigan, McClean will provide width to a squad chronically lacking in natural wide men. More of his type will be required if West Brom are to achieve their objectives this season.

James Chester – The former Hull defender is made for a Tony Pulis side. Brave, versatile and impressively experienced for one not yet at their peak, Chester will provide further depth at centre back and ability to cover at full back.

Rickie Lambert – The former Liverpool man endured a difficult 12 months at Anfield making only 15 starting appearances in all competitions. Despite this, Lambert had an excellent Premier League record (29 in 2 seasons) at Southampton and will look to link up with Saido Berahino as West Bromwich Albion hope to achieve a top 10 finish.

Key Players

Joleon Lescott – The former England defender struck up a formidable partnership with Gareth MacAuley in the second half of the season as Pulis’ organised Albion comfortably avoided relegation. The former Stoke boss has abundance of choice at centre half with Chester, Olsson, MacAuley and Dawson all natural central defenders but it is merely a question of who will partner Lescott. The former Man City man is the first name on the team sheet.

Darren Fletcher – The Scotsman had an excellent second half to the season and his experience was instrumental in the Baggies’ rise from the lower reaches of the table. Club captain Fletcher formed a combative and hard working partnership with Claudio Yacob in the centre of midfield while his experience of playing Champions League football with Ronaldo, Rooney et al will have earned instant dressing room respect after his move from Manchester in January ’15. Despite his tenacious on-field style and exposure to regular football at Europe’s top table, it is his ability to recover from the chronic bowel condition that marred his later years at Manchester United that reveals most about the character of the man. To bounce back from such a debilitating illness is nothing short of remarkable.

Saido Berahino – Even as a young and burgeoning talent, his influence on the side cannot be overstated. Simply put, without Saido Berahino West Bromwich Albion would have been relegated last season. He scored three times as many goals as anyone else in the side while the improvement of his movement and hold up play increased substantially over the course of the season. He is destined for a Champions League club if his rise continues at the rate of the last two years and the club will do well to keep him out of the clutches of clear admirers Tottenham and Manchester City.

Predicted Line-up

Modern day football is more about the strength and depth of the squad rather than just the first 11. However, based on a combination of minutes played in pre-season and the sentiment suggested in Tony Pulis’ recent interviews this is how I think the side will line up against Man City. Pulis will want to sign a natural left back, at least one more winger and a striker before transfer deadline day but as things stand I expect the following to play:
West Brom - Football tactics and formations

Manager

You know where you stand with Tony Pulis’ sides. Invariably they will be well organised, strong from set pieces, contain two runners in the centre of midfield with a target man ahead of them, feature minimal pressing in the opposition half in favour of compact banks of four making the team difficult to penetrate through the centre of the pitch, while also looking to utilise the counter attack after regaining possession in their own half. Stoke City played this way as did Crystal Palace and; since of the turn of the year, so do West Bromwich Albion. The results achieved are there for all to see. As sure as Arsene Wenger will assure you of a place in the top 4, Tony Pulis will assure you of a place in mid-table.

Pulis has had his detractors in the past, especially during his early years at Stoke, but there can be no denying the commitment and work ethic of the man. Intensive work on the training ground regarding team shape, set pieces and the transition from defence to attack are revealed in interview by players at each of his previous clubs. It may not be free-flowing attacking play but it reaps rewards, particularly against the bigger clubs. Pulis has a superb record against the top 7 as a manger, as last season’s victories over Chelsea, Manchester United and Southampton testify.

First Six Fixtures

(h) Man City – Draw
(a) Watford – Win
(h) Chelsea – Loss
(a) Stoke – Loss
(h) Southampton – Win
(a) Villa – Draw

Home Games

I cannot see Albion losing to both Manchester City and Chelsea. As previously mentioned, Pulis’ sides are built to stifle opponents who dominate possession. A draw against City would be a good result and I fancy Lambert to come back to haunt the Saints in a home win.

Away Games

If you are a side with top 10 pretensions then beating the promoted sides is a must and I think the Baggies may have too much for a new-look Watford side. West Bromwich Albion have a dire record against Stoke and fans know better than to hope for anything at the Brittania. In this life you are assured of four things. You are born, you pay taxes, you die, West Brom lose to Stoke. It is just the way the world works. As for Aston Villa – a pair of losses in four days lingers long in the memory of supporters. Making that into a trio of Villa Park defeats in six months does not bear thinking about.

Final Standing Prediction – 15th

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Everton

Three free agent goalkeeper options for Everton to add depth

Everton should consider adding depth to the goalkeeping department this summer.

Mathew Nash

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Everton currently have a fine goalkeeper in Jordan Pickford. Signed last summer from Sunderland he was the club’s player of the season last term and is now England’s number one stopper.

But it could be argued they are lacking in reserve. The veteran Maarten Stekelenburg has been an injury concern in recent times. Meanwhile, Spaniard Joel Robles has left the club at the end of his contract. It leaves youngster Mateusz Hewelt as the club’s current third-choice.

Considering his inexperience and Stekelenburg’s injury troubles, surely Everton should consider bringing in another goalie this summer?

Of course, they will not want to pay top dollar to do so.

So here are three free agent stoppers that Everton could target this summer…

Tim Krul

The Dutchman has struggled to find his way back into first-team football since a horror knee injury in 2015.

He spent last season as back-up to Mathew Ryan at Brighton and is now looking for a new club.

Since that knee injury, Krul has remained fit and would be a great back-up to Pickford.

(Photo by Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images)

Rafael

The first-choice keeper under Rafa Benitez at Napoli in 2014-15 the Brazilian found himself pushed down the pecking order over the past two seasons by Pepe Reina.

Undoubtedly a talented stopper with three Brazil caps to his name, he would be a solid option in reserve.

(Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images)

Miguel Santos

One Everton fans probably have not heard of, but perhaps the most likely addition.

Fresh from helping Fortuna Sittard to promotion to the Eredivisie the Portuguese talent will be known to Everton boss Marco Silva.

They worked together at Estoril when Silva was the manager. Santos, at the time, was a promising youngster but left for Benfica in 2012.

He had a spell at Port Vale in 2016 and a move back to England as Everton’s third-choice would surely appeal to the 23-year-old.

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Liverpool

Steven Gerrard called incoming Liverpool star Alisson ‘world-class’ in April

Liverpool will complete a world record move for the Brazilian this week.

Mathew Nash

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Liverpool are set to give the fans what they want by signing a new goalkeeper. A world record fee has been agreed with AS Roma for Brazilian number one Alisson this week. Liverpool will pay the Italian side £67 million for the 25-year-old. Sky Sports report he will undergo a medical this week and a deal will then be finalised.

It is a bold move from Liverpool, who for a number of seasons have suffered with mediocre goalkeeping performances from Loris Karius and Simon Mignolet.

Alisson is considered one of the best keepers in Europe and keeps Manchester City’s brilliant Ederson Moraes on the bench for his country.

He is certainly highly-rated by one former Liverpool player and legend. Steven Gerrard is a big fan of the player.

He spoke highly of the goalie whilst working on BT Sport as a Champions League pundit last season.


“This fella does deserve the praise he is getting of late. He makes world-class saves, he’s up quick, he makes second saves. A world-class keeper no doubt.”

– Steven Gerrard talking of Alisson’s quality in April 2018

 


Of course, Liverpool came up against Alisson and his Roma side in the competition. Over the course of two legs, the Reds put seven goals past the Brazilian. It led some fans to question whether Alisson was actually the right man for Liverpool.

 

But Liverpool needed a keeper with pedigree. Karius is simply too error-prone and his confidence must be at an all-time low after his Champions League final woe.

Liverpool fans will hope Alisson can live up to Gerrard’s ‘world-class’ tag and his price-tag next season.

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Liverpool

Three alternatives for Liverpool with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain out for the season

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Photo: Getty Images.

Amid what felt like a positive few days for Liverpool, fans were brought back down to earth by the devastating blow that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is unlikely to return from injury in 2018/19.

Jurgen Klopp confirmed the news after the midfielder suffered damage to his posterior cruciate ligament, anterior cruciate ligament, and medial ligaments in a challenge on Aleksandar Kolarov in a Champions League semi-final against Roma.

Oxlade-Chamberlain underwent successful surgery only a few days after the incident but is not expected to be available for selection and fully fit until the 2019/20 season.

“It feels like now is an appropriate time to tell people that for Ox this coming season will be about focusing on recovery and rehab. We have known this from pretty much the day after he got the injury and after the successful surgery, we were sure of it. There has been no change, the new information is that we’re now giving more detail publicly. But the truth of the matter is that we are preparing this season knowing he will not be with us on the pitch for competitive matches for the majority of it. If we do see him back this season it will be a bonus.”

Jurgen Klopp broke the news to the club’s official website.

The news comes as a real negative for Klopp, who will be busy planning how to get through the campaign without one of the team’s best performers in the tail end of last season.

His absence will open the door for three other men at Anfield though…

Georgino Wijnaldum

The arrivals of Naby Keita and Fabinho looked to be a major concern for the Dutchman, but with Oxlade-Chamberlain ruled out it seems unlikely that he will be moved on this summer at least. Quietly efficient and often producing in big games, he has been one of the first to have a finger pointed at him in frustrating results against lower level opposition.

With such high quality additions, Wijnaldum falls into the category of a player without the glamour of the likes of Keita but lacking the status of Jordan Henderson or James Milner. At times he has had his biggest impact in a more advanced midfield role, and whilst he lacks the injured man’s energy, he could be an option.

Nabil Fekir

Despite a deal seemingly being called off, Dean Jones of Bleacher Report has suggested that a move could be back on and Fekir would take up the role of natural playmaker as the attacking option in Klopp’s midfield trio. Whilst he may not be a direct replacement for Oxlade-Chamberlain, he would be the closest to filling Philippe Coutinho since he left in January and the former Southampton man really stepped up his game.

It could be a big ask for Fekir arriving at a new club after such a short pre-season following a successful World Cup campaign with France, but there is little doubt that if he joins Fekir would be the highest quality alternative in his place.

(Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

Adam Lallana

Lallana was a favourite with his hard working attitude playing into Jurgen Klopp’s system perfectly, but the last season was a difficult one for the midfielder as he suffered a number of injury set-backs and never really got going for the Reds.

The most natural replacement in a midfield three given that it was the role he occupied before Oxlade-Chamberlain arrived from Arsenal, he may have a refreshed chance to make his claim this season.

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