15:00 KO (BST); Saturday 12th August; The Hawthorns (Birmingham, England)
Tony Pulis is not famed for being the most inventive of managers, but the 59-year-old Welshman is renowned for being effective at keeping sides above the relegation zone. It appears that he will again have a tough task on his hands after losing club captain Darren Fletcher to Stoke City earlier this summer.
With many experts and armchair critics alike predicting a hard season for the Midlands club, will Pulis again be able to defy popular expectations?
There was only a single point separating these two teams last time around, despite the contrasting styles and philosophies which surround these two managers. The Cherries’ biggest problem last year was their defensive record, especially away from home where they let slip 38 of their 67 goals conceded.
Eddie Howe has looked to address this issue by completing a double-swoop on Chelsea to reclaim the services of Nathan Aké and Asmir Begović for a combined £30m price tag, but will this be enough to seal the gap?
Last Time Out
Deportivo de La Coruña 2 – 0 West Brom (Friendly)
A rush of blood to the head saw West Brom reduced to ten-men and needless goals conceded as the Baggies fell to an inglorious defeat. On a brighter note for fans if there’s a good time to make a mistake during a match then it’s at a point before the season gets under way.
With this in mind, Pulis will be hoping that his players are able to learn from the mistakes that let this game slip away from them.
The main talking point from the game was Jake Livermore’s second yellow card just before half-time. After a dour 40 minutes of football which lacked any clear sights on goal, Livermore reacted aggressively to a foul on new teammate Jay Rodriguez and was rightly sent to the dressing room earlier than expected.
With Pulis a strict disciplinarian, this may jeopardise his future starting place for West Brom, although there were several other players guilty of losing concentration and composure later in the match too.
BOURNEMOUTH 2 – 2 Napoli (Friendly)
The Cherries’ final pre-season fixture saw Howe name a strong side against the team who finished third in Serie A last season.
Considering Napoli’s next game is the Champions League qualifier against Nice, it is clearly understandable why Howe’s comments after the game focused on the quality offered by the opposition.
The game itself was the stereotypical game of two halves, with Napoli rampant during the opening spell. Bournemouth can take heart from their second-half performance though, turning the game around thanks to Benik Afobe’s fourth goal in three games and Simon Francis’ strike in the 76th minute before Napoli rescued a draw in the latter stages.
After interest in signing Jorginho for a reported £18m fee was confirmed by the Brazilian’s agent this week, it’s interesting to note that he played in midfield against the Cherries for Napoli last weekend, although produced one of the quietest performances on the pitch.
West Brom Lineup
Jonny Evans, Nacer Chadli and Chris Brunt all trained for West Brom this week following niggling injuries, meaning that Tony Pulis should have a full squad to make his first selection from.
James Morrison and Gareth McAuley have not been able to train during pre-season due to recovering from injuries they collected on international duty and as such, are highly unlikely to feature for the Baggies.
Jermain Defoe is expected to start for the Cherries after being rested for their final warm-up match against Napoli.
Key Battle: Jay Rodriguez vs Jermain Defoe
As the only summer signing made by Tony Pulis, Rodriguez could be the answer to a long-held problem at the Hawthorns. The Baggies have been without a main striker who has been able to record more than 15 league goals since Romelu Lukaku’s 17-goal haul whilst on loan there in the 2012/13 season.
After arriving from Southampton in a deal that could rise to £15m fee depending on various clauses, Rodriguez is a player that showed huge promise during his early career with the Saints. With three injury-plagued seasons stalling his career, the 28-year-old could be ready to reignite the Premier League.
It will be something of a homecoming for Jermain Defoe who joined Bournemouth this summer after a clause in his Sunderland contract allowed him to leave following the Black Cats’ relegation.
Having spent a season on the South coast in 2000/01, he managed to score 18 goals in his 29 games for the Cherries.
While he’s had a resurgence in form which culminated in an England cap last year, anything similar to this output will be a huge boost for his new club who will be looking at the 34-year-old to rekindle his marksmanship after he faded during the latter parts of last season.
Standing still or moving backward?
Squad depth has become a hot topic of conversation during recent weeks but West Brom are one team bucking the trend of building larger squads.
The addition of Jay Rodriguez has been countered by the surprise exit of Darren Fletcher to Stoke, although with Ahmed Hegazi also joining on loan from Al Ahli and potentially challenging for a first team spot, it could be argued they’ve increased their numbers.
With a squad which now has the unenviable title of having the oldest average age in the league, exhaustion and injuries could play a defining role in the baggies season. This could of course be tempered by further signings during the next three weeks, but West Brom presently look like a team who have not progressed from last season.
Being that they finished their previous campaign with only a single point claimed from their final eight games, this could be a worrying time to be a Baggie.
If there’s one thing that Tony Pulis truly believes in, it’s fitness camps. A rigorous training regime will have his squad at the peak of fitness for the upcoming season while they have also had a longer set of friendly fixtures than any other Premier League side.
With eight games officially arranged between mid-July and last weekend, there have been plenty of opportunities for every member of the squad to receive adequate playing time.
Although Pulis’ teams traditionally fade towards the end of a season, this is often compensated by an early reward for their players being physically fit at the beginning of a campaign.
With few wins to show for their troubles, it may be wondered whether quantity can really be a suitable substitute for quality.
Keeping up appearances
The true value of any signing is best judged by the size of the upgrade it provides the team. With Artur Boruc now 37-years-old, a new keeper was creeping higher up the list of priorities for Eddie Howe and the £10m capture of Asmir Begović from Chelsea will prove to be a shrewd piece of business.
Despite only making a total of 19 league appearances for Chelsea in the two years he spent at Stamford Bridge, the Bosnian keeper could potentially have improved certain areas of his game after training hard with Thibaut Courtois and the Chelsea coaches during his time in London.
Already with a reputation as one of the league’s best shot-stoppers, Begovic also boasted a high level of passing accuracy during his time at Stoke, a goalkeeping feature which has recently become an en-vogue commodity.
PREDICTION: West Bromwich Albion 0 – 1 Bournemouth
Despite Bournemouth’s long string of bad results at the turn of the year and their poor away record in the league, they still managed to finish in the top-half of the table. The three major signings they’ve made have all significantly improved different areas of the team and I can believe that they could potentially better last year’s ninth-place finish.
Despite West Brom remaining hard to break down, I can see them struggling this year and a home defeat against Bournemouth could the beginning of a hard season for them.
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