West Bromwich Albion 2016/2017 Season Preview: Baggies aim for continued growth as Pulis oversees first full season

Will new owners help propel Tony Pulis’ boys up the Premier League table?

West Bromwich Albion 2016/2017 Season Preview: Baggies aim for continued growth as Pulis oversees first full season
(photo: Cammy Anderson / VAVEL)

With just over 10 days before the start of the new Premier League season; West Bromwich Albion joined their West Midland rivals Wolves and Aston Villa in being taken over by Chinese investors. Former Chairman Jeremy Peace agreed to sell the club to investment group led by entrepreneur Guochuan Lai.

Now, with the season days away, Baggies fans will be expecting improvement under Tony Pulis.

Mid-Table finish again last year, as West Brom continued to consolidate

Their sixth consecutive season in the Premier League ended in a 14th place finish, five points above the drop. No wins in their last nine games however and constant drama with star striker Saido Berahino, it was more the standard of the teams that went down rather than entertaining football that kept the Baggies in the top flight.

Their home form at The Hawthorns wasn’t as expected as West Brom only managed six home wins last campaign. Record signing Soloman Rondon also failed to score goals consistently as the Baggies fell to a lower mid-table finish.

How do West Brom play?

With the continued absence of Berahino, Pulis opted with a 4-1-4-1 formation in the 2014/2015 season with Rondon leading the line up front. 10 goals in 40 games for Rondon isn’t a good enough return however and the Baggies should look to bring in a new face up front; especially if Berahino departs.

Jonny Evans, Gareth McAuley and goalkeeper Ben Foster provide West Brom with a typically Pulis defensive unit. The midfielder anchorman is Claudio Yacob who rarely makes his way forward as he sits in-front of the back four – leaving attacking duties to last season’s top goal scorer James Morrison in centre midfield.

Minimal movement in the market

Takeover rumours have been rife throughout the summer and this is reflected in the lack of signings the club have made. The only incoming thus far has been Queens Park Rangers winger Matt Phillips, who made the move North to the Midlands for five million pounds.

With the season fast approaching, the Albion squad is in need of strengthening. There is no obvious cover for Craig Dawson at right back and there is also a distinct lack of outright left-backs at the club. The pattern continues as there is also no obvious replacements for Yacob and Darren Fletcher.

Since the completion however there has been reason for Albion fans to feel optimistic as there is reported interest in Watford forward Odion Ighalo.

Only two wins in pre-season, one against a non-league side

It’s been a poor pre-season for the Baggies as they only registered a couple of wins. No wins in the final three friendlies of the summer for Pulis’ side as they looked ahead to the opening game of the season against Crystal Palace.

Albion kicked off their pre-season campaign against French giants PSG but fell to a 2-1 defeat. The only wins of the summer followed against Kidderminster Harriers and Vitesse Arnhem, both 2-1. There were plans for the Baggies to face another Dutch side in PSV, but it was cancelled by the local authorities in Holland.

 A disappointing 0-0 draw with League Two Plymouth Argyle was next on the agenda and this was followed by a poor 1-0 defeat to Torquay United who play in the Conference.

Pre-season came to its conclusion against Spanish second-division-side Real Mallorca and Albion fell to another defeat by the 1-0 score line.

Which players will be more important in the coming season?

Ben Foster: After only featuring in 15 league games last season due to injury, Foster reminded the fans exactly what they’ve been missing. He recorded four clean sheets in that time whilst consistently pulling off important saves to keep his side in games and earning points all by himself. Foster has also made over 125 appearances for the club and will continue to be a mainstay in the West Brom team for seasons to come.

Gareth McAuley: Key to all of Pulis; sides are a strong defensive spine and McAuley is key to this. After playing such a key role in the summer with Northern Ireland and also managing to get himself on the scoresheet against Ukraine; McAuley is an important figure for his club side too. He featured in 34 league games for the Baggies last season and signed a new deal at the club back in April.

Pulis is hoping for investment from the new owners
Tony Pulis is hoping for investment from The Baggies new owners

What are the strengths and weaknesses of The Baggies?

The main weakness for Albion is goals. They only registered 34 goals in the league, with only bottom side Aston Villa scoring less. Record signing Rondon failed to live up to his 12-million-pound price tag and Berahino only managed a handful himself.

On the other hand, though, The Baggies only conceded 48 goals; less than Liverpool, Chelsea, West Ham and Stoke City. In fact, it was the least out of any teams that finished in the bottom half – clearly showing where their strengths lie.

Are there any youngsters looking to force their way into the first team?

17-year-old Jonathan Leko is the main youngster to keep an eye on in the coming season. After making his Premier League debut against Sunderland in April, Leko went on to make five appearances in the league last term and will be looking to continue in his manager’s plans in the coming season. However, Albion could look to loan Leko out in order for him to gain more first team experience. 

Predicted finish – 13th

Another season of consolidation for West Brom as they’ll finish mid table. However with investment, a top ten finish could be on the cards.