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.
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.
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.
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:
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
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.
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[separator type=”thin”]
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Jack Wilshere’s injury shows why Arsenal shouldn’t renew his contract
The 26-year-old has been struck down by yet another injury.
Jack Wilshere will be pleased with the progress that he has made since returning to Arsenal from his loan spell at Bournemouth.
He was initially nothing more than a squad player that was out in the cold at international level too, but the midfielder worked hard to gain more game-time in North London.
Across all competitions, he has played more than 30 matches and his form earned him a call-up to the England squad.
It looked like he was getting a once-promising career back on track, but almost like clockwork, he has suffered an injury to set him back once again.
Gareth Southgate confirmed that he wouldn’t be travelling to the Netherlands for Friday’s match and the quotes were reported by Sky Sports.
“It is not a specific injury and over time they flare up and they need to settle down over a couple of days.
“We are hopeful it will settle down pretty quickly. It’s an ongoing problem and it’s not something new for him. He’s very disappointed not to be involved in the game.
“He’s trained well though but if you think about the journey he’s had in the last two years and his big injuries then he’s progressing really well.”
Although it is encouraging that it isn’t a serious injury, it is a reminder that Jack Wilshere remains a risk for both club and country.
It is difficult to build a team around a player that is susceptible to miss matches and the quote from Southgate is a worry as he refers to an ongoing problem.
Arsenal have had a difficult campaign and they will be planning a rebuild over the next 48 months as they transition away from the Arsene Wenger era.
They will have to make tough decisions on many players at the club and Wilshere’s future will be brought into focus over the next few weeks as his contract expires at the end of the season.
There have been numerous reports regarding contract talks between the two parties and there is hesitancy on both sides.
This latest injury suffered by Wilshere and the comments from Southgate referring to an ongoing problem show why it is Arsenal who need to end this association.
Wilshere can’t be relied on to stay fit and to feature prominently in a busy schedule. Arsenal will have ambitions of challenging at the very top of the game and will likely be involved in European competition every season. They need to have a squad of players that are reliable and the 26-year-old isn’t that.
Aside from that, Wilshere represents what Arsenal have become over the last decade. He is a player that had a lot of potential, but he has failed to fulfil it and been very inconsistent at the highest level. Of course, he isn’t to blame for the club’s problems, but he is also unlikely to offer the solutions.
This season has been a nice farewell campaign for him. It would have been sad if his Gunners’ career had ended after being shipped out on loan to Bournemouth.
He has returned to earn some of his credibility back, but the club need to move on and progress if they are to get back to the top of the English game.
A lot of contentious decisions will need to be made and the first should be the release of Jack Wilshere this summer.
Why Jose Mourinho’s treatment of Luke Shaw has crossed the line
The Portuguese manager has been highly critical of Luke Shaw this season.
The fractious relationship between Jose Mourinho and Luke Shaw plumbed new depths when the left-back was substituted at half-time in Manchester United’s FA Cup victory over Brighton & Hove Albion. The 22-year-old had been handed a rare opportunity to impress at Old Trafford but lasted only 45 minutes.
Speaking about Shaw in his post-match interview, Mourinho said: “Luke, in the first half, every time they came in his corridor, the cross came in and a dangerous situation was coming. I was not happy with his performance.”
The differences between the pair now appear to be irreconcilable. Shaw, who was signed by Louis van Gaal in the summer of 2014, has been used sparingly by Mourinho. The former Southampton starlet has made just 18 Premier League appearances under the Portuguese in a career that has been blighted by injuries.
Being substituted at half-time is almost as embarrassing as it gets for a player and Shaw’s mood will not have improved after being publicly criticised by his manager. It’s certainly not the first time Mourinho has chosen to talk candidly to the media about his concerns with the 22-year-old.
Some players require an arm around the shoulder to perform at their peak, while for others it takes a kick up the backside. Mourinho, opting for the latter, does nothing without reason and has clearly tried to spark a reaction from Shaw, without success.
From being one of English football’s brightest prospects after making his World Cup debut aged just 18, Shaw, who has seven England caps to his name, is in danger of not fulfilling the potential that convinced United to spend what was then a world-record fee for a teenager.
Mourinho’s tactic of singling out individuals who have not met his standards is in stark contrast to Sir Alex Ferguson, who never blamed his players in public. It has divided opinion among pundits, with Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier claiming the United manager is ‘destroying’ Shaw.
Mourinho is an expert at using smokescreens to distract from his side’s unconvincing performances. And this latest controversy has moved the narrative on from United’s shock Champions League exit at the hands of Sevilla.
Tough love is one thing, but the sustained, public attack on Shaw is unacceptable. If Mourinho genuinely believes he is not good enough to represent United, then fair enough. But to continually vilify the youngster’s performances is a step too far and one that could irreparably damage Shaw’s confidence.
This is not to say that Shaw is a completely innocent bystander. Mourinho’s predecessor, Louis van Gaal, also questioned his desire and general conditioning when he joined United four years ago. Indeed, the Dutchman signed Shaw up to a tailored exercise regime in an effort to improve his fitness.
But while van Gaal’s treatment had the desired effect, Mourinho’s has done the opposite. Being publicly humiliated on a routine basis does neither party any favours.
In all likelihood, Shaw’s disappointing United career will come to an end this summer. A fresh start away from the toxicity under Mourinho is exactly what he needs.
Keanan Bennetts has perfect opportunity to impress Mauricio Pochettino this week
The left-sided star has a chance to impress in first-team training during the international break.
With the international week in full flow, plenty of teams in the Premier League have seen their squads diminished by call-ups to national teams.
Tottenham Hotspur are one such side. Nonetheless, with most of the first-team squad away with their respective nations, work continues at Hotspur Way.
In order for Spurs to have a full complement in training, plenty of young talent needs to be pulled in to the ranks.
Mauricio Pochettino will, therefore,e get a chance to see some of his young players training with regular first-team players such as Fernando Llorente, Erik Lamela and Lucas Moura.
One player who will be training with the first-team this week is talented wide-man Keanan Bennetts, according to London Live.
The 19-year-old left-winger has been catching the eye for the club’s youth team in recent weeks, making the news after scoring a fantastic goal for the under-19s against Monaco in the UEFA Youth League last month.
Bennetts has also been attracting interest for his positional dexterity. The wide-man has played at left-back in recent times and it could be that is his future best position.
This week he will be up against some excellent players such as Lamela and Moura, who did not receive selection to the Argentina and Brazil national teams, respectively.
If he can prove himself with this calibre of player, Pochettino will have to take notice.
It is coming to a point in his Tottenham career when Bennetts has to make such an impact. The teenager is out of contract at Spurs in the summer and needs to ensure he is kept on for at least one more season.
Tottenham fans who follow the youth teams are certain he is deserving of such a chance. If he can show Pochettino what he is capable of this week, then a new deal will surely be in the pipeline for the talented wide-man.
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