A new era in the history of West Bromwich Albion gets underway on Saturday as new Head Coach, Alan Pardew, takes charge of his first game at the Hawthorns against his previous club, Crystal Palace. The majority of Baggies fans were happy to see the end of the Pulis era and, while Pardew may not have been the preferred choice of many of them, I’m sure they will give him their full support as the team seek to move away from the bottom three.
The visitors, Crystal Palace, are themselves a relatively short time into their latest era with former Albion and England boss, Roy Hodgson, having taken the reigns on 12th September. He is the third Eagles manager since Pardew was sacked from Selhurst Park less than a year ago, with Sam Allardyce having led them to safety last season before leaving in the summer, and Dutchman Frank de Boer lasting just five games this season with the League Cup win over Ipswich the only game he didn’t lose.
The middle-aged managerial merry-go-round has been much talked of in the last few days with Allardyce, Pardew, Hodgson, Pulis and Moyes having shared a number of clubs over recent years and, as I have said on this site, I would’ve liked to have seen a more interesting appointment than Pardew at the Hawthorns. I do, however, understand that the owners want to play it safe, and from a football style point of view, Pardew is, perhaps, the best of the old guard. The choice of John Carver as his assistant will have raised a few eyebrows given his somewhat troubled spell in charge of Newcastle United after Pardew left. However, it should be remembered that he didn’t take them down, that was largely down to Steve McLaren the following year, and that he is a well respected coach having been assistant to Bobby Robson at Newcastle, as well as Gary Speed at Sheffield United.
Baggies legend, Gary Megson, did a decent job of steadying the ship following Pulis’s departure. Few will have expected anything from last weekend’s trip to Wembley, but Tuesday evening’s collapse was something of a disappointment, although the late injuries to Gibbs and Phillips were certainly a contributory factor. Nonetheless, Megson has left the club with thanks once again, and if his latest comments are anything to go by, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him back in management some time soon.
I would imagine that this weekend’s game will come a little too soon to see any major changes, but the departure of the Welshman seems to have had a galvanising effect on the team on its own given the last two performances. One of the first decisions that Pardew will need to make is that of formation. The back three/five seems to have made a comeback in the last twelve months or so, and Albion have pretty much played that way all season, a departure from Pulis’s standard back four.
One of the major casualties of the change in formation and, of course, the signing of Kieran Gibbs, is Chris Brunt. The left wing back position is Brunt’s only natural place in a 5-3-2, and he doesn’t really have the pace required for that position and I’m not sure that there’d be too many Albion fans to argue that he should start ahead of Gibbs. He could, of course, play in central midfield, but with (at least) two of those central three being defensive, the attacking option needs to have pace to be effective, which again rules Brunty out. He’s been a great servant to the club and is one of the few genuinely skillful ball-players in the squad, but I’m not sure he really fits in a three-man midfield. Of course, the knock-on effect is that we have missed Brunt’s excellent set-piece delivery and one of our most important sources of goals in the Pulis era has virtually disappeared as a result.
Brunt is one of many options that the new Albion manager will need to consider when he looks to set up a tactical formation to get the most out of what is a decent squad of players, although with the former skipper currently injured, Pardew will need to look elsewhere initially. Krychowiak has not come anywhere near justifying his wage packet so far, but there is surely a good player there somewhere that could emerge if used in the right way. At Sevilla, he was the man who won the ball back and gave it to his creative midfield partner – in Pulis’s team, he rarely had that creative partner and it could be one of the reasons why his performances have been under par. Oliver Burke’s chances have been limited by injury, neither Phillips nor Chadli have had nearly enough minutes while Morrison, probably the one attack-minded central midfielder that Pulis trusted, has been injured for almost the entire season. Claudio Yacob has shown in recent games that he still has a lot to offer despite being virtually ignored by the Welshman this season, but with the Pole, Gareth Barry and Jake Livermore all vying for a position in the side with the Argentine, defensive midfield is, perhaps, Albion’s strongest position.
The new man is known for playing with quick wingers, so I would expect him to revert to a back four in either a 4-4-2 or, perhaps a 4-5-1/4-3-3 formation depending on the state of the game. With Matt Phillips and Kieran Gibbs struggling to be fit for Saturday, that does limit the options somewhat. If it is to be a back four, we might have seen Brunty back at left back with McClean in front of him had he been available, but his absence leaves some tough selection decisions to make at the back. McClean’s cameo on Tuesday certainly didn’t strengthen the case for him to be a defender, and the pace of Zaha and Townsend is a concern given Albion’s potential lack of options at full back. If Phillips doesn’t make it, that could give Burke a chance to start his first Premier League game on the right, particularly with Nacer Chadli also injured.
The clubs last met in Hong Kong in the Premier League Asia Trophy which produced a rare victory for Frank de Boer (incidentally, I wonder if Jürgen Klopp is concerned given that the other three clubs in that tournament have sacked their manager already this season), but the last competitive meeting was at the Hawthorns in March when those two pacey wingers I mentioned earlier both scored to give Palace a 2-0 win. In fact, the South London club have scored on all but one of their last nine visits to the Hawthorns dating back to that memorable evening in 2005 when Earnshaw scored in stoppage time to give Albion the lead, only for Riihilahti to equaliser a couple of minutes later – the Baggies had the last laugh in May, of course.
For Gary Megson, the Eagles were the opponents on two of his most momentous days – that famous day when the Baggies clinched promotion to the Premier League for the first time in 2002 and his last game in charge in 2004 when a 3-0 defeat prompted Jeremy Peace to pull the trigger.
The clubs didn’t meet until 1969 and, since then, Albion hold the upper hand in terms of results, but their Premier League meetings are neck and neck with both clubs claiming four wins each from the ten meetings.
Crystal Palace have had somewhat longer to turn around their fortunes under Roy Hodgson and are on a run of three games without defeat but the point they got at the Amex Stadium on Tuesday evening is their first on the road this season. Albion’s confidence will be a little higher after two draws, but they still haven’t won since August. I think the new manager bounce will change that, however, and I believe the Pardew era will start with a win.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
4 Mar 2017 – Premier League
West Brom 0
Crystal Palace 2 (Zaha, Townsend)
13 Aug 2016 – Premier League
Crystal Palace 0
West Brom 1 (Rondón)
Last win at the Hawthorns
27 Feb 2016 – Premier League
West Brom 3 (Gardner, Dawson, Berahino)
Crystal Palace 2 (Wickham (2))
Albion’s Record against Crystal Palace
|Premier League Record|