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Aug 4, 2014

Premier League Preview: West Brom

With new manager Alan Irvine at the helm, West Brom will hope for a less turbulent 2014-15 campaign.

Lessons from last season

Everyone associated with West Brom wants to consign last season to the history books and move forward. One lesson Albion have learned is to move quickly in the transfer market, with seven new faces in the squad and more to come.

They have also got all but one of these players in on a permanent basis, compared to the large number of loans they had last season. The main problem the Baggies had last season was that they didn't seem to know how they wanted to play. There was no direction. Pepe Mel wanted to play high-tempo, pressing football, while Steve Clarke preferred counterattacking. At the end of the season, Albion ended up with a style that was neither here or there, hence the poor results.

It seems West Brom will be going back to a more counterattacking style this season under Alan Irvine, who will be hoping it is as successful for him as it was for Roy Hodgson and Clarke in his first season.

Predicted starting lineup

The 4-4-1-1 should allow West Brom to defend, then counter attack.
The 4-4-1-1 should allow West Brom to defend, then counterattack.

What's new?

There's a new manager in Irvine and the playing squad has had a serious transformation. West Brom have had a summer of upheaval, moving on some underperformers from last season and sending the five loanees from that campaign back to their parent clubs.

The area that has seen the most changes is defence, with Albion bringing in four new defenders, while they are still actively pursuing a second left-back to compete with Sebastien Pocognoli, one of this summer's defensive reinforcements. West Brom also now have a new record transfer fee after splashing out 10 million pounds on Nigerian international Brown Ideye. It is uncharted territory for Albion, with the fee double the previous record.

He looks to have all the weapons a top striker needs -- pace, power and good finishing -- but of course there is always a worry about how a player will adapt to the Premier League, particularly with such a big price tag.

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Strengths

Albion have the most strength in the centre of midfield. Youssuf Mulumbu is nailed on to fill one of the central midfield positions when fit, but who plays alongside him will give an indication as to how Irvine wants to play.

There is the more defensive-minded Claudio Yacob, a box-to-box type in Craig Gardner or more creative flair players like James Morrison and Graham Dorrans. As mentioned, West Brom's defence has undergone a face-lift this summer and on paper looks to be another area of strength.

They have three proven Premier League-quality centre-backs --including new signing Joleon Lescott -- with Andre Wisdom also capable of playing there. In the three friendlies so far, Pocognoli has impressed with a mix of solid defending, crunching tackles and his quality going forward.

Weaknesses

Despite the signing of Ideye, West Brom still look light up front. Their only other two options at present are Saido Berahino and Victor Anichebe. Berahino showed plenty of potential in his debut season, scoring five in the league, but his form did dip when talks began over a new contract. With that sorted, hopefully Berahino will be fully focused for the whole season, but you can't rely on a player who is still learning the trade. Anichebe is a strong forward who holds the ball up well and brings others into play, but he is not going to score the goals Albion need.

Another area of weakness is out wide, with Chris Brunt the only recognised senior wide player in the squad. Costa Rican international Cristian Gamboa -- who is awaiting a work permit before his move can be confirmed -- is capable of playing further forward, but a more proven winger is a must, someone in the mould of Peter Odemwingie who can contribute goals as well as assists from out wide.

Manager - ESPN FC profile

No one saw the appointment of Irvine coming, not even the man himself. It is a very questionable appointment -- Irvine has never managed in the Premier League and hadn't been in any managerial job since being sacked by Sheffield Wednesday in 2011, with the club languishing in mid-table in League 1.

Another worrying aspect are reports on Irvine's style of play, with the Scot having a reputation for defensive, narrow and direct football. Playing this style will not endear him to the West Brom fans.

ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN Stats & Information

Key player

Stephane Sessegnon started off his career at Albion with a goal on his debut and a series of impressive displays, before hitting a midseason slump like most of his teammates. He did seem to return to form towards the back end of the season, stepping up to the plate when the Baggies needed it most with a goal against Swansea in a 2-1 win.

With the lack of wide players in the squad, the burden will fall on Sessegnon to be the main creative outlet and provide the scoring opportunities for Albion's new record signing to flourish.

Predicted finish: 15th

I'm not expecting too much from Albion this season. They've made some good moves in the transfer window so far, with chairman Jeremy Peace looking like he has learned his lessons from last season by getting the majority of business done early.

However, having to conduct such a drastic overhaul of the squad is also a risk, as it can take a while for the new players to jell. It is the appointment of Irvine that is the biggest risk, though. He needs to get off to a flying start, otherwise pressure will be on from not just the fans but also Peace, who knows he needs this appointment to be a success after a catastrophic season last time out, with three different head coaches. I'm going to be optimistic and say that Albion will stay in the league, but it's not going to be comfortable.


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