West Brom will remain dull, but Tony Pulis should deliver Prem survival
Here's a look at West Brom's 2016-17, as Tony Pulis looks to develop the side following last season's 14th-place finish.
At a glance
With Tony Pulis still at the helm, West Brom look set for another season of dull, percentage football that will in all likelihood keep them in the Premier League.
Premier League: 15th
FA Cup: Quarterfinals
League Cup: Fourth round
Some of the deadwood has been cleared out, with Stephane Sessegnon and Victor Anichebe leaving the Hawthorns on free transfers, but disappointingly, only long-term target Matt Phillips has joined the club so far. Arguably the best bit of business West Brom have done this summer is tying down long-serving midfielder James Morrison with a new contract.
The breakdown of Diafra Sakho's move means they still need to add at least one forward to support Salomon Rondon, while Saido Berahino's future remains unresolved, even after a year of speculation. West Brom still have plenty more to do -- a left-back is a must, as it will allow Jonny Evans and Chris Brunt to play in their natural positions.
Despite signing Phillips, the club still needs strengthening out wide, while a more energetic, creative presence in the middle of the park would go some way to solving the goal-scoring problems that plagued Pulis' side last season. Ideally, a younger centre-back would also be brought in.
This recruitment might be dependent on shipping out the likes of Callum McManaman, Sebastien Pocognoli, Cristian Gamboa and Rickie Lambert, who all appear surplus to requirements.
Success this season depends on Pulis' striking a balance between defensive organisation and effective, attractive attacking play. The first part shouldn't be a problem -- it's what he built his reputation on -- but there's plenty of doubt around whether he is capable of taking off the handbrake and giving his attacking players more freedom.
Rondon grabbed nine league goals last season, when his supply line would've been described as average at best. The questions now are whether Pulis is willing to recruit players with creativity and whether he can use them effectively.
Too often last season, the team found themselves under pressure and their goal under siege, partly due to the deep defensive line Pulis favours but also because of their inability to maintain possession, with too many simple passes going astray.
West Brom's head coach surprised many with the way he gave young players such as Jonathan Leko, Tyler Roberts and Sam Field opportunities in the first team toward the end of the season, and it will be interesting to see if he continues to trust these players in meaningful fixtures.
If Rondon picks up an injury that rules him out of action for a sustained period of time, West Brom will potentially be left with a want-away Berahino and an out-of-form Lambert to fill the void. They are heavily reliant upon James Morrison for creativity, and after he missed the last three months of the season because of injury, there has to be concern over his fitness.
Another concern is the aging backline that remains key to Pulis' plans. Gareth McAuley has been outstanding since arriving, but at 36 and without a full preseason after returning late following Euro 2016, there will be doubts about whether he can continue that form. In Jonas Olsson's case, he already looked to be struggling with the pace of the Premier League last season.
With Arsenal rumoured to be interested in Evans and James Chester totally out of favour, the club could find themselves relying upon the experienced pair and hoping it isn't a season too far for both of them. It's vital that a left-back is signed so Evans can play in his best position, which will hopefully persuade him to stay.
One to watch
Leko looks to be the young player with the best chance of a sustained run of games in the first team. While Field has impressed in preseason, he has been filling in for others who are injured or required to cover different positions, whereas Leko looks to be a firmly established first-team regular.
The idea of he and Phillips dovetailing on opposite wings is appealing, as they will provide much-needed pace and skill for a workmanlike side. Leko is very gifted technically, he has quick feet and the ability to go past players, and though his end product needs work, he has already shown in glimpses that he can create chances in the Premier League.
He will likely find himself in competition with James McClean for a starting berth, and whoever wins that battle will be symbolic of how Pulis intends to play. McClean is experienced, reliable and industrious, and his contribution goes under-appreciated. Leko is raw and unpredictable and wouldn't provide the all-around contribution that McClean does.
But he's the more effective attacking outlet, and that is something this West Brom side desperate needs.
Matthew Evans is ESPN FC's West Brom blogger. You can follow him on Twitter @MattEvansWBA.