Things were pretty dismal at the Hawthorns this past season. Management tried to replace temporary talisman Romelu Lukaku with a shotgun approach – buy a little of everything and hope something works. It didn’t. Nicolas Anelka was an unmitigated disaster between his bad behavior off the field and his lack of production on it. The lesser names, Matej Vydra, Thievy Bifouma, Stephane Sessegnon and the like, weren’t much better (on the field at least). Throw in an aging defense that was also not very healthy and the Baggies were very lucky to avoid relegation. Mid-season managerial merry-go-round also failed to improve things although Pepe Mel did just enough to keep the team up (but not enough to keep the job, if, indeed he wanted it).
Predicted Finish: West Brom were rightly predicted to struggle mightily in the wake of losing the on-loan Lukaku. 15th was a frequent prediction and they ended up 17th.
Quick Review: Not much good to be said here. The gambles didn’t pay off. The youngsters didn’t mature fast enough and the veterans were either injured or fell off a bit of a cliff performance-wise. The promise of Morgan Amalfitano’s late September heroics - a goal and an assist in a famous 2-1 win at Old Trafford - quickly fizzled as the winger only produced 3 more goals and 2 more assists over the rest of the season. A solid analogy for the Baggies’ season.
Departures/Likely Departures: It’s never a good sign when a healthy percentage of the starting line-up including both starting outside backs are allowed to leave on free transfers. Even less so when one of the two ends up in Major League Soccer. The Baggies have parted with a variety of veterans including: Billy Jones, Liam Ridgewell, Steven Reid, Cameron Gayle, Scott Allan, Nicolas Anelka, Zoltan Gera, and Diego Lugano.
Needs: The needs at the Hawthorns are many this summer, here are the highest priority issues facing the club as they entered the transfer market:
- Right Back: With both Billy Jones and Steven Reid gone there is no first team right back currently in the squad. Getting one, preferably a relatively young player who won’t have to be replaced in short order is a huge priority.
- Left Back: Liam Ridgewell, a converted center back, has been holding down the left back spot for a few seasons at Albion. He has been released so a left back, preferably an actual left back this time, would be another huge priority.
- Center Back: Gareth McAuley is a solid center back and Jonas Olsson isn’t bad either but together they aren’t exactly going to strike fear into the hearts of Premier League attackers. That McAuley is 34 and Olsson 31 also means that they are likely to a) slow down and b) get injured if they are counted on to play starter’s minutes.
- Forward: The Baggies are still haven’t replaced Romelu Lukaku. Saido Berahino looks like he could be an interesting player as he matures but he appears to be more inclined to run at a defense than hold up play and bring in teammates. Bringing in someone who can be a focal point for players like Sessegnon and Berahino will be crucial to improving on last season’s attack.
Summer So Far: The club has been active and bold as the Alan Irvine era begins. The club have improved the spine of their defense with the surprising acquisition of Jolean Lescott. They have added an unknown quantity at left back in the form of former Belgium international Sebastien Pocognoli. They have added depth in the form of former Fulham utility man Chris Baird. To the defensive additions, they have added Craig Gardner on a free from Sunderland which is a solid move at a price they can afford. With the season still about a month away the club are still in dire need of a right back and a center forward as well as some more defensive depth before the summer can be called a positive step away from another flirtation with the relegation zone.