As WAGNH's resident captive West Bromwich Albion supporter, I've been tasked with providing a view of the opposition ahead of tomorrow's clash at the Hawthorns. As a result, CFC Kevin sat down to interview WBA Kevin for an interview about the match. This is what he got.
Looking at the Premier League table, West Brom don't seem to be doing very well.
No, we really aren't. Since Steve Clarke had us up in the European places early last season, we've been sliding down the table.
But you finished 8th in the Premier League last season.
Yes, and that shows just how good the early season form was. If you look at the second half of the season, though, it was closer to relegation form than even mid-table form. That form has continued into this season, and has, fittingly, seen us cast deep into the mire of the relegation battle.
That form is presumably what cost Steve Clarke his job.
That seems to be the answer. Clarke's side(s) managed to collect 33 points from their first 20 matches, then just 31 from the next 34.
Including that famous win at Old Trafford?
Yes. That was about as great a day as I've experienced as an Albion supporter, but it proved to be more the exception than the rule.
Speaking of that, the club haven't seemed to get the usual "bump" from replacing the manager.
No, they really haven't. Part of it, I think is the extended search for a new manager. Keith Downing was in charge for five Premier League matches, and got some decent results, but the club had interviewed new boss Pepe Mel less than two weeks after sacking Clarke, but took ages to actually appoint him. The "considered" approach is usually good, but, sometimes, it can kill momentum.
So, what are your thoughts of Pepe Mel, the new manager?
He's a good manager. You only have to look at his record with Betis to see that, but the team are yet to really gel around him and settle into his tactical approach. That his hiring was left so late may have affected his ability to amend the squad in the transfer window, but I don't think the club would have done much anyway.
But they did sell Shane Long to Hull.
Yes. That does concern me. Of the strikers the club has used this season, Long was really the only one with consistency. Anelka, Anichebe, and Vydra have all had good and bad matches, though more, sadly, have been toward the "bad" side of the spectrum.
It looked for a long time like WBA weren't going to replace him, but signed Theivy Bifouma on loan on Deadline Day. What are your thoughts on him?
It's early yet, but there was plenty to be happy about from his debut performance against Palace, where he scored the fastest debut goal in Premier League history, but only time will tell. If he's inconsistent like the rest, it's going to be a long 13-game run-in.
Okay, we've established that striker is not exactly a position of strength. Are there any other squad concerns?
Sadly, yes. The back line has been problematic all year. It was a position of strength before now, but our defenders are ageing and declining at about the same time. They're also struggling a bit to adapt to Mel's defensive style and preferred high line.
Yikes. Are there any good areas in the squad?
Thankfully, there are. Youssouf Mulumbu and Claudio Yacob are as good a midfield pairing as the club could ask for, and Ben Foster is definitely solid enough. Saido Berahino has come through spectacularly this season in the attacking midfield, but hit-or-miss acquisitions like Stephane Sessegnon and Morgan Amalfitano mean it's not a true strong area.
Do you think West Brom will be able to stop Chelsea tomorrow?
Obviously, we should probably have won the first match at Stamford Bridge, and we have basically the same group of players, but it's hard to be too optimistic. That was always going to be an improbable result anyway, but the Albion have since declined more, while Chelsea have become the form team.
Are we going to see some of the infamous 19th Century football, then?
I don't think so, and I hope not. Pepe Mel doesn't strike me as a "park the bus" manager, and I don't see success if it's attempted. The back four is just not that solid right now, and we're missing players all over the pitch. If that West Ham match is played 100 times, 99 times Chelsea win it. I just don't see the Albion being able to repeat that feat.
Are you predicting an easy Chelsea win?
I'm not really sure. I certainly think there's the potential for Chelsea to come in, all guns blazing, and hit us for a cricket score. On the other hand, though, we have a habit of being tough to break down when we want to. I can see it being a tight match with a narrow margin of victory for either side or even a draw. Chelsea deserve to be favourites, though.
What do you ultimately want to see out of the match, if not a point or three?
I just want to see signs that the team is coming back together again and improving. The result isn't as important as a good performance.
Finally, do you think West Brom have enough to avoid the drop?
The million-pound question. I honestly think the squad have the capacity to get some results and pull themselves out of danger, but every week it doesn't happen just feeds the nagging thoughts at the back of my mind. What if those results never come, or come too late? Relegation is a very real threat for the club this season, but, after The Great Escape, I believe anything is possible if there's even a shred of hope. It'll be close, but I think they'll just snatch a place in next season's Premier League.