West Bromwich Albion have made themselves at home in the Premier League following their promotion from the Championship in the 2009/10 season. A solid first season was followed up by an equally competent sophomore campaign, one that saw their manager deemed good enough (or, perhaps, foolish enough) to be moved onto English national team duty.
And so now the post-Roy Hodgson era begins. In the owl-faced one's place is former Chelsea defender Steve Clarke, who's getting his first shot at management. Clarke might technically be a novice, but he's been number two at four separate clubs, including one stint as an understudy to Jose Mourinho. The 48-year-old has the tactical nous to succeed in the Premier League, and the Baggies shouldn't be a particularly difficult squad to keep happy.
The most challenging part of Clarke's new gig promises to be fitting West Brom's attacking talent into one lineup. With Chris Brunt, Zoltan Gera, Peter Odemwingie, Jerome Thomas and Shane Long as well as loanees Romelu Lukaku and Yassine El Ghanassy for what is at best four slots, it sounds like heavy rotation may well be the order of the day at the Hawthorns.
The big addition to the midfield is 25-year-old Argentinian Claudio Yacub, who should replace Paul Scharner as Youssuf Mulumbu's partner in the double pivot. Whether or not the former Racing Club captain can adapt to life in the Premier League is going to be a major factor in West Bromwich Albion's season. If their midfield core struggles, they're in for a hard time, potent attack or no.
But, assuming that the centre holds, the Baggies have the (more or less unchanged) defence to succeed. It's not a spectacular one by any means, but it's good enough to keep them in contention -- West Brom conceded 52 goals last year against a league average of 53, and the permanent signing of goalkeeper Ben Foster from Birmingham City means that they're not going to have to embark on a disruptive search for a new stopper.
If none of this sounds particularly sexy, that's because it isn't West Brom are an essentially average side. But average in the Premier League is a fine accomplishment, and if Clarke can pull it off it'll be a great first season in charge.
Last year: 10th; 13W 8D 17L.
This year: 10th. West Brom look like the averagy-est Premier League side around right now. That's not bad going at all.
Key player(s): Peter Odemwingie has been the key to the Baggies' attack over the last two seasons, notching 25 goals in sixty league appearances. However, he's been hit by injuries and his form took a bit of a dip last season on top of that. If he can get back to his goalscoring best, there's every chance that West Brom can exceed expectations. If he can't, Clarke will have to end up replying on a far less proven commodity up top.