Roy Hodgson looks to carry his fine work at West Bromwich Albion into a second season, after he steered the club away from relegation. Having lost 13 out of 18 and fallen to 17th place, the early success of Roberto Di Matteo’s attacking play (they had been up to 4th at one point!) was fast being forgotten as he was sacked. Hodgson brought in the methods that were so successful at Fulham, but failed to work at Liverpool: An organised and solid defensive team, while still retaining the best of the passing game that Tony Mowbray and Roberto Di Matteo instilled on the team. Having done that, WBA saw an immediate up turn in results, winning 5, drawing 6 and only losing 2 of the last 13 games of the season, and climbing 6 places up to 11th, WBA’s best finish in 30 years.
Even after the appointment of Hodgson, they still have some major defensive worries. Hodgson may have gotten WBA more organised, but they still conceded 23 goals in the last 13 games, and ended up conceding the second most amount of goals in the Premier League, behind only relegated Blackpool. If WBA want to avoid a relegation dog fight this year, they must improve defensively. Abdoulaye Meite is gone, replaced by the former Ipswich captain Gareth McAuley, who should form a good partnership with Jonas Olsson. Gone too is the mistake waiting to happen, Scott Carson, replaced by Ben Foster on loan from Birmingham. Those two signings alone should knock off a few goals from the 71 conceded, but so should a full preseason of working on organisation and tactics to match Hodgson’s demands.
Last season, Peter Odemwingie had a fantastic debut year, scoring 15, assisting 7, and leading the line fantastically, in both a 4-4-2 and a 4-2-3-1. Hodgson likes to play 4-4-2 with inverted wingers, and thus Shane Long has been brought in to partner Odemwingie. Jerome Thomas and Chris Brunt should continue on the left and right respectively, where the latter had a superb season, creating 86 chances, among the most in the league. Who Hodgson plays in the midfield depends on who he faces, and what type of formation he plays. With Paul Scharner, Youssuf Mulumbu, Graham Dorrans and James Morrison, there is room to have different options, and with Zolton Gera and Somen Tchoyi available to deputise for Thomas and Brunt, WBA should be able to withstand an injury crisis.
With good attacking players, a solid midfield and a good organised defence, WBA should improve on their 11th place finish last year, and with a bit of luck, could push the likes of Everton and Fulham for the last Europa League place, and with a good draw, could go a long way in the domestic cups.