West Bromwich Albion had a memorable campaign last season. They finished on 8th, which was their best top flight finish since 1980-81. Had they not collapsed in the closing stages of the league – only two wins in 12 matches – the Baggies could have finished the season with few more points and places high up the table.
Critics were very skeptic about West Brom early in the season. The club appointed a rookie manager, Steve Clarke in place of Roy Hodgson and the expectations weren’t too high either from him. But, the Baggies have punched above their weights and superseded all expectations.
One of the highlights of their season was the performance of Chelsea youngster Romelu Lukaku, who joined the club on a season-long-loan to further his progress.
The 20-year-old Belgian wreaked havoc to terrorize the weary defenders while coming late on. He came as sub on 13 occasions, played seven full games, and scored 16 times last season, which was twice of the Shane Long, the club’s other recognized striker and the side’s next highest scorer. His strong physical presence and the mobility to go along with it was at times unstoppable and West Brom’s success or for that matter failure will hinge on how they cope without the Belgian wonder kid.
He has returned back to Chelsea after completing his loan spell and expects to feature prominently for the Blues this season. In his place, the club has signed Nicolas Anelka on a free transfer from Juventus. The veteran pro has excelled in the pre-season, scoring seven goals and has impressed everyone with his work ethics.
Likewise, lots of hope has been placed on young Matej Vydra, who joined on loan from Udinese. The young Czech international is known for raw pace and is an exceptional goalscorer, who almost guided Watford to the Premier League this year and is expected to provide an extra dimension to the Baggies attack.
By signing Diego Lugano from Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer, Clarke has conducted yet another shrewd business.
The elements of a successful team are very much there for Steve Clarke. The only thing that matters is, do they have the mettle to repeat their performances, second season running. Do they have the ability to mix it up and surprise their opposition once again? One can only hope. But having the experience of a first full season under his belt can only help new manager Steve Clarke and the team.