Can West Brom improve again this season?

West Bromwich Albion v Swansea City - Premier League

Steve Clarke

Last season, West Brom were tipped by many to suffer relegation from the Premier League. In May 2012 they lost Roy Hodgson to England. His replacement, Steve Clarke, was a man with little experience in the managerial hot-seat. Pundits believed it was a risky appointment by the Baggies, and that it wouldn’t work out for them.

In Steve Clarke’s first season in charge, West Brom finished eighth in the Premier League. This represented their best top-flight finish since 1981. Is it possible for West Brom to improve again this year?

Arguably the biggest challenge for West Brom will be replacing Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian forward netted an impressive 17 league goals in his loan spell last season.

Lukaku has since returned to his parent club, Chelsea. To compensate this loss, Steve Clarke has brought in a new striker who also has a Chelsea connection. Frenchman Nicolas Anelka completed his free transfer to West Brom this week.

The striker has turned out for many EPL sides (including Chelsea). Anelka stated he would like to finish his career at the Hawthorns upon signing. His movement and finishing prowess should ensure he’s a huge hit at the club. At 34, his best days may be behind him, but Anelka still has what it takes to play at this level.

A 5-5 draw with champions Manchester United on the final day was systematic of West Brom’s season. While goals were easy coming, it was defensively where the frailties lied.

In the 2012-13 season, the Baggies conceded 57 league goals – more than Sunderland, who finished 17th. A better defensive record would have put more points on the board, and closed the gap to those above them.

In Ben Foster, they possess a goalkeeper capable of performing heroics when called upon. Jonas Olsson is an experienced centre-half with a real vocal presence at the heart of the defence. Also in Craig Dawson they have a young English defender with bags of potential.

Perhaps it’s the full-back positions where improvement is required. Steven Reid has seen his career dogged by injury, while Liam Ridgewell isn’t a natural left-back. A few alterations here, and possibly a ball-winning midfielder could solve some of the defensive issues.

What may determine West Brom’s success this campaign is those around them. Liverpool finished a place above them last season, and have the financial firepower to make big improvements. Steve Clarke isn’t blessed with a huge transfer kitty. Their squad is thinner in numbers than say Liverpool.

Injuries or suspensions could have an impact on the Baggies’ fortunes. If they retain the same team spirit from last season, and keep their key players performing, West Brom will impress yet again this year. It may not be enough, however, to finish in an European spot.

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