How will Steve Clarke fare in his first managerial role?
Last Season: 10th
In: Romelu Lukaku (loan, Chelsea), Markus Rosenberg (free transfer, Werder Bremen), Caludio Yacob (free transfer, Racing Club de Avellaneda), Yassine El Ghanassy (loan ,KAA Gent), Ben Foster (£4.4m, Birmingham City)
Out: Simon Cox (£2.2m, Nottingham Forest), Paul Scharner (free transfer, Hamburg), Martin Fulop (free transfer, Asteras Tripolis), Nicky Shorey (free transfer, Reading), Keith Andrews (free transfer, Bolton Wanderers)
If they were an Olympian: Nesta Carter and Michael Frater. The first two parts of Jamaica's all conquering 4x100m relay team. Not bad, actually pretty good, but really no one tunes in to watch them.
As Roy Hodgson walked off into the sunset at the end of last season, he left having guided the Baggies to their best ever Premier League finish. Following in the footsteps of the hugely experienced Hodgson is Steve Clarke, in what is his first managerial post.
Clarke is a very well credentialed and widely respected coach, who has worked at Chelsea, West Ham and most recently Liverpool. His impact at Liverpool was clear and his arrival at the club in January 2011 was every bit as key as the return of Kenny Dalglish. It is widely believed that the majority of the work on the training ground was done by Clarke and as such the massive improvements in Liverpool's defensive record last season is heavily due to Clarke's work.
In many ways the Scott is an ideal replacement for Roy Hodgson. Much of West Brom's success was built around the organisation and defensive solidity that Hodgson instilled and Clarke seems like a good choice to continue that work. The more pressing issues will be whether Clarke can continue to get the best out of a squad that probably overachieved last term and whether he can provide an attacking platform for a side that at times struggled for goals.
Clarke has already made use of his footballing contacts by bringing in Romelu Lukaku on loan from Chelsea. Lukaku's career has stagnated from the days when he was optimistically talked about as the "new Drogba". Given very few first team opportunities last season, the Belgian will want to start rebuilding his confidence at West Brom this year and it should be remembered that he is still only 19 years old. Physically Lukaku is a beast and if he was to get a couple of quick goals it is easy to imagine him going on a roll.
The club face three tough opening fixtures, with Clarke returning to Anfield on the first day of the season, before facing Tottenham and Everton, but after that they have four eminently winnable games. West Brom will probably lose their first two games but should pick up points afterwards.
This season will be probably be one of consolidation for WBA and Clarke. Repeating last seasons 10th place finish is probably beyond them as teams such as QPR, Villa and Sunderland have all strengthened and will be looking for a top half finish.
The squad should probably have enough to keep them safe but it will be tense and their battle to survive may go down to the last few weeks of the season.
Predicted Finish: 15th
Key Man: Ben Foster. Foster made his loan from Birmingham City permanent this summer and he will be hoping to continue his good form from last season which saw him achieve the level of consistency that had often held him back. With old boss Roy Hodgson in charge of the national team and goalkeeping coach Dave Watson also part of the set up, a recall for Foster cannot be ruled out.
Underrated: Youssuf Mulumbu. Everytime I see Mulumbu play I'm impressed and the Congolese midfielder is a vital part of the Baggies' midfield. His major attributes are his tackling and unwavering energy levels. Does tend to get himself booked a lot.
Watch out for: Chris Wood. Retuning to the Hawthorns this season after a loan spell at Birmingham where he chipped in with a respectable 9 goals in 23 games, the New Zealand international will hope to have a chance to show he is worthy of a regular place in the side.
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