Most football seasons will revolve around what is happening at the top and bottom of the league table. Individual stories of over or under achievement will always stand out. Last season’s champions are this seasons relegation candidates. Chelsea’s outstanding form this season as they run away with the league title has been rightly praised. The bottom of the league is tighter than ever, as any one of six teams could end up going down.
But what about the teams who are sitting pretty in the middle of the pack? It could be argued that Everton, currently sitting in 7th, are slightly underachieving with the talent in their squad. However, for West Bromwich Albion, 8th place in the league table, represents a marked improvement on the last 3 seasons.
West Brom have used the last 7 seasons to cement their spot in the Premier League, prior to that, they had yo-yoed between the top division and the Championship. Spending no longer than 2 consecutive seasons in the top flight. So their current run represents their longest consecutive run in the top flight since a 10 year stretch from 1976-1986.
Since their return to the Premier league in 2010, West Brom have only finished in the top half of the table twice, 10th in 2012, and their highest finish 8th in 2013. But since that time they have not kicked on finishing 17th 13th and 14th respectively since 2013.
Tony Pulis appointment in early 2015 was seen as a shrewd one, having established Stoke as a Premiership force, he then went to Crystal Palace and secured their spot in the Premiership in the 13/14 season. When he took over at West Brom they had lost their last 3 games in the row, and were sitting 16th. He would go onto the previously mentioned 13th place finish. But Pulis has used that time to go about building a squad capable of more than just keeping their heads above water. One of his early key signings was Darren Fletcher.
Fletcher, the captain of WBA, has become an ever present force in the middle of the park for Pulis. He has made 77 consecutive appearances for West Brom since signing for them in February 2015. To put that into some kind perspective, his final 77 league appearances for Manchester United occurred over the course of five-and-a-half years. Despite a rough start to the season for the 33 year old, since a 4-0 hammering by Man City (West Brom’s anomaly result this season) Fletcher has been fantastic for the Baggies.
Fletcher has spent most of the season playing in front of the back 4, and has contributed 2 goals and 2 assists for the Baggies. He is also averaging at least 1 key pass a game, and a 77% pass completion rate. Fletcher is also experienced enough not to dive in to tackles, and will look to try to stand his ground against opponents.
The following season after signing Fletcher, Pulis added Salomon Rondon and Jonny Evans. In last summer’s transfer window, Pulis secured Matt Phillips and Nacer Chadli. These players have formed a core group that have allowed West Brom to quietly climb up the table, and sit in eighth positon, chasing a Europa league spot.
In terms of attacking intent, Matt Phillips has played his part in helping to drive West Brom up the table. He has contributed with 8 assists this season, and 4 goals. This has accounted to being involved in 40% of his team’s goals this season. James Morrison is another player who has shined recently. He’s scored two in the last two games, taking his tally for the season to a career-equalling best of five league goals.
He was the main point of attacking creativity in previous seasons, and when he injured his hamstring in January their attacking purposed disappeared, but this season, he is benefiting from playing alongside Nacer Chadli and Phillips, who have eased the burden.
West Brom’s defence has been steady, conceding 29 goals. That is only one fewer than Liverpool, and the same as third placed Man City. Ben Foster has continually put in excellent shifts for the Baggies in goal, and he’s currently second in the Premier League with 87 saves. They have also kept 5 clean sheets, the same as Manchester City.
Rondon is leading the charge up front for West Brom, scoring seven goals, while Phillips leads the Baggies with eight assists, and trails only Rondon in shots. Calm and steady captain Fletcher leads the team with 806 passes completed. West Brom have won most of the games they should, including a 4-2 thumping of West Ham in September, and drawn when they needed to, such as their 1-1 tie with Spurs. They’ve also held their own against the big boys, losing by only 1 goal to Arsenal and Chelsea.
Albion already have 36 points this season, which was enough to keep them up three years ago, and the team are on course to break the 50-point mark for the first time in the Premier League. They have won 5 of their last 10, and are 4 points off 7th. There next three games sees them play West Ham away, and 2 winnable home games against Bournemouth and Crystal Palace. Pulis would be targeting at least 7 points from these games, and this may find European football at the Hawthorns next season.
By Rich Lee @RichLee2202