Premier League season previews: West Bromwich Albion

Stu Forster

Under Steve Clarke, West Brom were one of the revelations of last season. They're looking to repeat their top-half finish this time around.

Steve Clarke's transition from assistant manager to actual manager could hardly have gone better. Taking over from Roy Hodgson at West Bromwich Albion this time last year, Clarke led the Baggies to a superb eighth place. Had they not faded so badly over the last couple of months of the season, an even higher finish would've been possible.

Now, the Scot has the unenviable task of trying to go even better. West Brom have spent the summer trying to build on their strong base, though so far have been underwhelming in the transfer market. The arrival of a couple of veterans is scant consolation for the loss of last season's top scorer Romelu Lukaku to parent club Chelsea, but the Baggies have managed to hold on to their other star players. They'll be hopeful of another high finish.

Last year: 8th

Key player: James Morrison

It's tough to pick a key player in a midfield so effective as West Brom's, though the versatile James Morrison is one of the most important. He's been a regular for the Baggies in five of the last six seasons, and has become one of their most reliable performers. Capable of playing both out wide and through the middle, the Scottish international's accurate crossing and cutting passes make him their most dangerous midfield threat.

Potential breakout star: George Thorne

George Thorne spent the first part of last season on loan at Peterborough United, though was recalled by Steve Clarke in the midst of a midfield injury crisis in December. Thorne had impressed at the Posh, and made five appearances after returning to West Brom before suffering a serious knee injury in February. The 20-year-old is scheduled to return in the next few weeks, and will be looking to force his way back into the midfield reckoning.

Additions: Diego Lugano, Nicolas Anelka

Had West Brom made these signings five years ago, they'd have done excellent business. Sadly it's 2013, and neither player has looked at their best for some time. Lugano looked like one of the best centre-backs in the world as he captained Uruguay to glory at age 32 in the 2011 Copa América, but has faded with injury problems since. Anelka, who's two years older than Lugano, hasn't scored more than six goals in a single season since 2009-10. As it stands, the Baggies' arrivals have been pretty underwhelming.

Departures: Romelu Lukaku, Jerome Thomas, Marc-Antoine Fortuné, Zoltán Gera, Gonzalo Jara

West Brom have let a few familiar faces go this summer, with the most recognisable being Zoltán Gera. He made 16 league appearances for the Baggies last season; though now 34, the Hungarian international has been released. Other aging players who've left on free transfers are Jerome Thomas and Marc-Antoine Fortuné, while Chilean defender Gonzalo Jara has had his loan deal at Nottingham Forest converted into a permanent one. The only departure of major first team significance is striker Romelu Lukaku returning to Chelsea at the end of his loan. Replacing him will be nigh-on impossible.

Could still leave: Peter Odemwingie

The Odemwingie saga continues to drag on, with the troublesome attacker inexplicably still on West Brom's books. That probably won't be for much longer, with the three newly promoted Premier League clubs, West Ham and Al-Nasr reportedly looking to sign the Nigerian international. Otherwise, there don't seem to be any imminent departures.

Rumoured transfer targets: Matej Vydra, Scott Sinclair, Franco Di Santo, Jimmy Briand

Steve Clarke is keen to add to his side's attack, having lost last season's top scorer Romelu Lukaku. Various strikers have been linked with the Baggies, with the most recent being Udinese's Matej Vydra. The young Czech international spent last season on loan at Watford, scoring 20 Championship goals in total. He's also chased by West Ham, Sunderland and Swansea, and would be an excellent signing for any of those clubs. The Baggies have also been linked with Franco Di Santo after he left Wigan on a free transfer, as well as Manchester City and Lyon wingers Scott Sinclair and Jimmy Briand.

Projected opening weekend starting XI: Ben Foster; Liam Ridgewell, Gareth McAuley, Jonas Olsson, Billy Jones; Claudio Yacob, Youssouf Mulumbu; Chris Brunt, Graham Dorrans, James Morrison; Shane Long

It's a solid starting 11, even without any summer additions. The holding duo of Yacob and Mulumbu were highly impressive last season, affording greater attacking freedom to the players in more advanced positions. Shane Long is a decent striker, though with Anelka and the so-far unimpressive Markus Rosenberg likely to be the only backups, it's easy to see why Clarke's targeting at least one new forward.

Season prediction: 7th

Though they'll certainly feel the departure of Romelu Lukaku, West Brom look like they're hanging on to their other important players. If they manage to bring in one or two good forwards before the window shuts, they'll fancy their chances of faring at least as well as they did last season. Though they don't have enough to qualify for Europe, they'll certainly be looking for another top half finish.

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