When West Brom fans saw the opening weekend’s fixtures, there was little surprise to them that Albion were dealt a tough hand. Last season Albion started the league season away at champions Chelsea, this time they start the season at home to champions Manchester United but the good news is that West Brom don’t have to play Chelsea until the 2nd game of the season.
Last seasons’ fixtures against the champions do offer some encouragement however. Albion were the only club to take anything from Old Trafford and in the return fixture they were outstanding with Jerome Thomas essentially ushering Gary Neville into retirement and onto our TV’s. Of course there have been changes to both sides over the summer, and there is no doubt Albion will be weary of the threat posed in particular by Ashley Young, Nani and Antonio Valencia. News coming from the club suggests that Steven Reid is struggling to be fit for the game, so summer recruit Billy Jones may have to be handed a debut at right back in his place.
It will be interesting to see what tactics Roy Hodgson will employ against the champions, as he now has the calibre of player to employ either a 4-5-1 or 4-4-2. I expect for this game, and most probably all games against the top clubs, Hodgson will stick with the 4-5-1 due to the protection it will offer the defence.
In addition to this, club record signing Shane Long has only had one day’s training with the Albion squad so I expect him to start from the bench. Youssuff Mulumbu and Peter Odemwingie are expected to be fit despite doubts earlier in the week over their fitness. I expect Paul Scharner to start alongside Mulumbu in the middle of the park as he is the only option there, although that may change should Owen Hargreaves agree to join the Baggies.
There is only two positions with questions marks over them, the right-sided centre half and who will play behind Odemwingie. Although I expect Craig Dawson to have a big part to play this season, I do not see Hodgson throwing him into such a big game with no top-flight experience. New signing Gareth McAuley picked up an injured whilst on international duty with Northern Ireland and is a doubt, so it seems to be a straight choice between Gabriel Tamas and Pablo Ibanez. Tamas has been chosen more often over pre-season, including alongside Jonas Olsson at Bristol City, a game in which Albion started with what many consider to be their first choice eleven. Ibanez is rated highly amongst fans, but both Roy Hodgson and previous manager Roberto Di Matteo have been less than keen on him which may be down to the communication problems as Pablo is struggling to pick up the language.
Hodgson then has a four way choice for the player to be employed in the hole behind Odemwingie. Both James Morrison and Somen Tchoyi had a good time of it against United last season, Morrison scoring a screamer at the Hawthorns whilst Tchoyi scared Edwin Var Der Sar into a very rare mistake. Hodgson could well employ Simon Cox in this position, who seemed to be the man in possession of the shirt at the end of last season. And the final choice for Hodgson is the one that will excite Albion fans the most, the return of Graham Dorrans. Every Albion fan knows just what Dorrans is capable of, and he showed signs of re-discovering his from when Hodgson first arrived until injury struck him down. Following a good pre-season showing he must be in contention, however I expect Hodgson to go with Somen Tchoyi who offers a greater threat than Morrison in that position.
Man United seem to start the season cold, and Roy Hodgson had a great record against United when he was at Fulham. Albion fans will be hoping to get the season off with a bang, but I fear that United will be too strong in the end. 3-1 Manchester United.
And finally, I’m going to talk about the upcoming season. Albion will want to consolidate following an impressive 11th place in the Premier League last season, and with Hodgson at the helm that is highly possible. Although I, and every other baggies fan would take 17th, I can see no reason why Albion cannot repeat or even better last year’s finish. I have picked out three important players for the upcoming season:
Key Player: Peter Odemwingie
Quite simply, this was the hardest decision to make between Odemwingie and Youssuff Mulumbu. However finally I plumped for Odemwingie as although the way in which Mulumbu stepped up to premier league level was so impressive, without Odemwingie’s goals I don’t think Albion would have stayed up. Odemwingie only cost West Brom £2.5 Million, and in return came 15 vital goals, which was clearly the missing ingredient that Albion needed in their other years in the premier league. Hodgson will be hoping that Odemwingie can continue this form and work up a good partnership with Shane Long.
Star Signing: Ben Foster
Although much of the attention has gone on Shane Long, I believe that the signing of Foster is a crucial one for the Albion. Foster has the potential to be the best goalkeeper seen at The Hawthorns for a long time, and many believe he will provide the defence with much more confidence than last year when they were in front of either the talented but mentally fragile Scott Carson or his deputy Boaz Myhill. One thing that has delighted Albion fans is Foster’s reputation as a game-winner, he is someone who can put in performances that can win points which make up for any errors made, a criticism Carson was labelled with.
Surprise Star: Graham Dorrans
This won’t be a surprise to Albion fans, but to most others it will. Dorrans did not live up to expectations for a variety of reasons last year, be it injury, personal problems, lack of form or being played out of position. Dorrans only played twice under Hodgson, but it was in his preferred attacking midfield role and his influence was clear to see against Stoke, where Dorrans was a constant thorn in their side. Should Dorrans play to his potential this year, Albion will have yet another gem on their hands.
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