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Jan 12, 2014

Beleaguered Baggies need boost from new boss

If Pepe Mel didn't realise the size of the task he had on his hands at West Brom, he will now having watched his new side put in yet another uninspiring and turgid performance as they lost 1-0 to Southampton at St Mary's.

• Corrigan: Pepe Mel profile

It was the type of display that has become all too familiar for Albion fans this season. In fact it was near enough a carbon-copy of the performance in Steve Clarke's final game in charge of the club against Cardiff. In both games, West Brom offered no attacking threat, and although they defended fairly well in both games, the opposition did manage to break them down.

From then on, Albion are left chasing the game and making reactive, rather than pro-active, substitutions. Matej Vydra has looked dangerous since being given more of an opportunity by Keith Downing, so to bring him on for only five minutes whilst an out of form Shane Long remained on the pitch was beyond confusing. The most worrying aspect was that Vydra offered more in that five minutes than Long or strike partner Nicolas Anelka did in the whole game! The same can be said of Saido Berahino, who only got 15 minutes off the bench despite having scored in the previous two Premier League games and being Albion's highest scorer this season.

The Baggies may want to try and shield Berahino away from the limelight, but they simply can't afford to do that. It doesn't matter that he is still fairly young or it is his debut Premier League season, West Brom need him as he is by far and away their biggest goal threat -- he is the only player who looks capable of producing a moment of magic.

The striking thing is that the Baggies could have quite easily taken points from both games. Against Cardiff, Long was denied by a world-class save. It was Long who again could have rescued a point for the Baggies against the Saints but on this occasion, he inexplicably hit the ball straight at Artur Boruc from six yards out with the whole goal gaping. If anything summed up West Brom's display against Southampton, it was that miss.

It is clear that Albion are in need of some fresh ideas. They need some impetus and hopefully that will come from the new head coach. This season it has become a chore to watch the Baggies, with the focus becoming far too much on not losing rather than taking the game to the opposition and trying to win. Mel comes in with a reputation as a coach who favours attacking football and isn't afraid to take the game to the big sides, as demonstrated by wins over both Barcelona and Real Madrid during his tenure at Betis.

Unfortunately, Mel finds himself in a position where he can't make wholesale changes, as the priority is simply to keep Albion in the Premier League. He does not have the time or the funds to make lots of changes, but he can still win the fans over quickly. All that will be asked of Mel is to provide a West Brom side that is once again are good to watch -- it doesn't have to be gung-ho football but simply put, it would just be nice to see the ball played on the floor a little bit more. The Baggies reputation as a passing side has been diminishing quickly over the past season, which is strange as there is plenty of players in the squad who would perform much better in a side that kept on the ground.

Bearing that in mind, these are a few things I think Mel would have learned from seeing his new side in the flesh for the first time.

Shane Long and Nicolas Anelka can't play together

I don't know what it is but this combination simply doesn't work. Long's presence in the side tends to lead to Albion's defence looking to hit him with a long ball most of the time, which completely nullifies Anelka's game, which is now more about coming deep and collecting the ball, playing more like a second striker.

Youssuff Mulumbu is not a holding midfielder

Mulumbu has been West Brom's most consistent players for the past four seasons but he can't play as the main defensive midfielder. Mulumbu is the very definition of a box-to-box midfielder, he doesn't have the positional discipline or passing ability to play as a holding midfielder who instigates attacks. If Mel wants someone to do that, then Claudio Yacob is his man.

Saido Berahino and Matej Vydra must be given more opportunities

As outlined earlier on in the blog, these two look to be West Brom's two most threatening strikers. I'm not sure that they can play together, but I do believe that both would flourish alongside Anelka in the deeper role. Berahino has already shown he has built a good understanding with Anelka in the 3-3 draw with West Ham in December.

The side needs more pace

The Baggies have just been far too slow and cumbersome in many of their games this season. The ball isn't moved around quickly enough and there is no speed in the side to use the counter-attacking style that worked so well in the first part of last season. Chris Brunt and Morgan Amalfitano are accomplished, technically-gifted footballers but they aren't blessed with great pace. It may be that one of these has to be sacrificed so that Albion can have some pace on at least one wing.

Good luck Pepe, if West Brom continue to serve up repeats of the performance against Southampton, he's going to need it!