Hopes were high last time we saw West Bromwich Albion (West Brom, Brom, or WBA). Then, the hope was coach Tony Mowbray's commitment to attractive football would keep the up-and-down club in the English Premier League (EPL). Unless you're Arsène Wenger, the top levels of English football have a reliable track record of proving pragmatism prudent. Brom finished 20th that season, Mowbray was off to Scotland, and the perpetuating fate of WBA was affirmed.
That fate is of a transient club. Brom's not transient in the sense of players coming-and-going, the club going through good periods than bad. Over the last decade, West Brom has been one of the most consistent teams in English football table. They've almost always finished between 17th and 24th. Aside from the very top of the Premier League, it's almost impossible to find that kind of in-varying production, but because that range straddles the Premier League-Championship barrier, there's the perception that Brom's inconsistent. Yo-yo means up-a-league, down-a-league. It does not necessarily mean good one year, bad the next.
For West Brom, that may be idle consolation. Being reliably 17th-24th is big picture-good. Little picture, Brom never wants to go down; at least, they never wanted to accept that they have to, which is why Tony Mowbray's departure for Celtic was an opportunity. By bringing in Roberto di Matteo, the Baggies were appealing to an idealism that went beyond Mowbray's reverence for style. West Brom reveres progress, and although they failed to regain their Championship title last season, they were ten points better than the first place season of 2007-08.
The real progress needs to come this season. If West Brom goes back down, Roberto di Matteo's more pragmatic approach means little. Fortunately for the Baggies, that approach will meet less quality at the bottom of the Premier League than it did two years ago, when West Brom was relegated along with Newcastle and Middlesbrough.
Major Comings: No major additions at the Hawthorns, through left back Nickey Shorey, acquired this week, could be a valuable addition, providing depth with little drop-off from the first team. Defender Pablo Ibanez has also been added, but adjustment from Spain plus rust are issues.
Significant Goings: Robert Koren would have continued to be a valuable contributor had he stayed, but the club elected to pass on his option - more cost-cutting than rejecting his production. A full season from Steven Reid (whose loan deal was made permanent) will help offset the loss, but Koren had been a leader for some time at the Hawthorns. It's possible the move, while perhaps necessary, will prove a big loss.
Still There: Seems just days ago that Scott Carson was moving to Brom to keep his England hopes alive. Now, the goalkeeper is the team captain. Chris Brunt and Graham Dorrans will continue as the punch from midfield. A full, controversy-free year from Roman Bednar will give WBA a presence high on the field. Jonas Olsson, now in his third year with the team, was one of the most important acquisitions from Brom's last Premier League build-up.
|Rk||Club||Avg||W||D||L||GF||GA||1st||Top 4||Top 7||Relegated||Best||Worst||Range|
|17||West Bromwich Albion||14.9||11.6||7.8||18.6||41.5||62.2||0.0%||0.1%||1.0%||26.0%||4||20||9-20|
Why: Overshadowed throughout 2009-10 by Newcastle, West Brom was much stronger last year than they were three years ago. In 2008-09, they spent the entire season in the relegation zone. By the end fo that year, they were showing quality which, displayed earlier, would have kept them up. With the team improved since then, WBA should be favored to survive, if only barely.
Best Case Scenario: A combination of continued weakness from the league's lower half, players remembering the experience of two years' past, and an unexpected slip from one of the upper-mid-table teams lets Brom finish tenth or 11th.
Nightmare: As opposed to two years ago, the Baggies get off to a good start, playing to their potential through winter. It looks like Di Matteo has the answers, but then April comes along, team push and West Brom stumbles. By the time May plays out, Brom supporters are convinced: If this team that played so well can still be relegated, then this club is destined to perpetually live on the staircase.
Most Likely: West Brom never escapes the relegation race, and their Premier League future is decided as much by what happens with other clubs as how they perform. If the bottom of the league is as weak as it was last year, WBA is fine. Even if it's slightly strong, Brom stays up.