West Bromwich Albion 2017/18 Season Preview: Will Baggies' Pulis progression continue?

Tony Pulis approaching tactical crossroads in third season as Baggies boss.

West Bromwich Albion 2017/18 Season Preview: Will Baggies' Pulis progression continue?
Photo: Matthew Ashton - AMA / Getty Images

With just days to go until another Premier League campaign kicks off, West Bromwich Albion begin their eighth-successive top-flight campaign, eyeing to further solidify their status at the top tier of English football.

That however, will not be an easy feat. Again finishing comfortably in mid-table last term, at one stage back in March, the Baggies were aiming for an unlikely place in the top seven, with sights on European football.

Once more those visions became distinctly blurred towards the end of the season, as with guaranteed survival came a lack of direction once more for Tony Pulis' men as they ended up in 10th spot. So what are the realistic ambitions of the West Midlands outfit?

Will Pulis stick or twist?

Much will depend on whether Pulis elects to stick with the same 4-2-3-1 formation, that paid rich dividends for West Brom from the middle part of their last campaign.

Going completely against everything that the Baggies boss has been noted for, the Welshman suddenly opted to switch from a 4-5-1 system, to having four in attack.

The switch in tactics greatly aided winger Matt Phillips, who despite tailing off in the latter stages of last term - largely due to injury - scored four goals and amassed nine assists during the campaign.

 

New faces at The Hawthorns

With the options in attack now at the disposal of the Baggies, a reversal to a more defensive ethos would seem unlikely. In fact, in their last pre-season outing in Spain versus Deportivo La Coruña, Pulis rolled out a 4-4-2 approach.

New signing Jay Rodriguez has slotted in with aplomb since making the £12m move from Southampton, and is likely to play a key role as either a strike partner for Salomón Rondón or Hal Robson-Kanu, or as a versatile midfielder across the Baggies' midfield.

The 28 year-old who scored 26 times for the Saints, has already opened his account for his new club, netting versus fellow Premier League side Leicester City in the Asian Cup and away to Championship side Burton Albion.

The other main signing in the West Midlands this summer has been defender Ahmed Hegazy. At 6'5 inches tall, the Egyptian fits the bill as a stocky, bullish centre-back, but unlike a Pulis signing has scored just once in his domestic career. Whether the 26 year-old will help or hinder West Brom, remains to be determined.

 

Rondon aiming to find form

Rodriguez could also slot in as lone striker, if the club's goal-scoring issues up front hang-over from last term. Rondon's near five-month goal drought between December and the penultimate weekend of last season, saw the Venezuelan's early season form dip, including the forward's first hat-trick. 

With Robson-Kanu stepping in for Rondon, the Welsh international scored three times and was an able deputy. However, ahead of the new season, both the Venezuelan and Pulis will be looking for a fresh start from a player who has previously become on of the hardest-working centre-forwards in the league.  

Mixed pre-season form

Pre-season plans have not gone according to plan. West Brom have recorded just two wins from eight games, losing half of their fixture list.

Their most recent game on Saturday, saw the Baggies lose 2-0 away to Branquiazuis at The Riazor. Goals from Bruno Gama and Borja Valle capitalised on Jake Livermore's sending off, as former Baggies boss Pepe Mel's side eased to a comfortable win.

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Favourable start for Baggies

Unlike in previous years, West Brom's early run of fixtures are favourable ones. The Baggies do not play top six opposition until they travel to the Emirates Stadium to face Arsenal in late September.

Pulis' side entertain AFC Bournemouth on the opening day of the season, with home games with Stoke City and West Ham United in the opening five games.

West Brom travel to the AMEX Stadium to face Brighton and Hove Albion for the first time in the top flight, as former Championship regulars. A decent points haul could be on the cards to kick-start the campaign. 

Tony Pulis is yet to conclude his moves in the transfer market, having been spurned on multiple attempts to sign Middlesbrough defender Ben Gibson and Gunners left-back Kieran Gibbs

Whilst off-field matters are put to one side, West Brom's immediate priority will be the visiting Cherries on August 12. 


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