The Season So Far
Ding dong, the witch is dead. Finally.
Sighs of relief were breathed all around West Bromwich this week as Tony Pulis departed the Hawthorns after nearly three entirely miserable years in charge. Sympathy was in short regard as, even though Pulis guarantees Premier League survival, life as a fan supporting one of his teams is no fun whatsoever.
Even though Pulis took last week’s pre-match press conference as a chance to defend his record and show how the side had progressed under his management, Baggies fans certainly won’t miss him. Who would? The football was beyond abysmal, the supporters gradually forgot that coming to the ground could possibly be fun, the players got bored of training and eventually stopped trying to do anything other than kick the ball as hard and as far as they could down the pitch.
Of course, Pulis won’t be out of work for long. Yo-yo clubs and those established ones which mess up one transfer window and suddenly find themselves sliding down the table unhesitatingly turn to him to steer them away from the drop zone, ensure mid-table security over a period of years on a relatively small wage-bill, and allow them to return to dreaming a little once the club is stable enough to recruit a proper manager.
It’s just tough luck for Pulis that West Bromwich Albion reached that point. Three years was more than long enough for a team to benefit enough from Pulisball to re-establish itself and start dreaming of playing actual football again. Surely all West Brom fans are hoping for is an optimistic and exciting new manager to take charge – i.e. not Sam Allardyce or Alan Pardew.
The incoming boss will certainly have his work cut out for him. A miserable start to the season has left the Baggies seventeenth in the Premier League, one point above the drop zone and without a win since August. Their last clean sheet was in September and they’ve since lost to Huddersfield Town, Southampton and Brighton and Hove Albion, sides who they needed to be beating for the principles of Pulisball to hold.
The Season Ahead
It all depends on who the next manager is, what he does with the team and how quickly he gets the wind back into West Brom’s sails. If they delay an appointment and allow drift to set in, Everton-style, West Brom will go down. If they hire a safe hand like Allardyce, they’ll probably survive but they’ll be back looking for a new manager this time next year.
Really, all the fans want is to enjoy going to watch the games again, so a manager who likes to play with flair and who would use and appreciate the likes of Nacer Chadli, Matty Phillips and James McClean would be welcome. As Pulis’ tenure showed, it’s all fine and well guaranteeing with survival with prosaic football, but when you can no longer guarantee said survival you’re not left with very much. That has to change.
West Brom’s main focus this season has been on keeping a good defensive shape and giving their opponents as little time and space near their goal as possible. Last season, space was previously minimised by keeping three or all four defenders back and making sure the two defensive midfielders sat deep. This season, however, Pulis switched to a system which used three centre-backs and three defensive midfielders, effectively forming a two-line back six.
Their task was very simple: keep their shape, protect the box and the centre of the pitch, and punt the ball as far as possible whenever it arrives at their feet. Unsurprisingly, given how the Baggies’ build-up play “started” at the back, their attacking can be charitably described as ‘rudimentary’. Sometimes, they didn’t even bother attacking.
The unsuccessful change in formation can definitely be said to have contributed to Pulis’ downfall, but the major factor in their change in results has been their lack of success from set pieces. Last season, West Brom’s successful attacking was famously done via set plays and in March, April and May, everyone was parroting the stat that no Premier League team had scored more goals from corners. This season, however, that threat has been nullified, and the true horror of Pulisball was exposed.
With Pulis gone and caretaker Gary Megson a mere placeholder, we should expect a return to a generic 4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1 and a slightly more open style than under Pulis. It’s too early to expect anything as radical as a change in West Brom’s identity and any long-term opening up can be discarded if the board does indeed plan on taking Sam Allardyce on.
Their strengths this season have been minimal.
Only Guardiolaball is as instantly recognisable a tactical philosophy as Pulisball.
Gareth Barry recently became the player with the highest number of appearances in the Premier League, which is obviously very nice for him and he should be very proud.
In underperforming loanee Grzegorz Krychowiak the Baggies have a top-class central midfielder who could do a decent job for almost any Premier League side.
That’s about it.
Only Swansea have taken fewer shots than West Brom this season.
Only Swansea have had fewer shots on target.
Only eight teams have allowed more shots on their goal this season.
No team averages less possession and only three have a lower passing accuracy percentage.
Only four teams have created fewer chances from set pieces.
Nine teams have scored more goals from set pieces.
Only Jay Rodriguez has scored more than one goal for West Brom this season.
They haven’t won a game since August.
They haven’t kept a clean sheet since September.
No other Premier League team has suffered the embarrassment of having Tony Pulis as their manager.
They do not currently have a manager.
Neither line-up should have too many surprises.
Gary Megson’s focus will be less on getting a result and more on preparing the ground for the next man in charge: keeping the players fit, raising their morale and avoiding injuries will all be higher on his list of priorities than getting three points here.
Spurs 3-0 West Brom.