The Season So Far
West Brom ordered One Standard Tony Pulis Season with a side of Star Player Transfer Controversy and they’ve got their Standard Tony Pulis Season with a side of Star Player Transfer Controversy. The Baggies are comfortably numb in mid-table, miles from the relegation zone and nowhere near the European places, cruising through a completely forgettable and joyless campaign in neutral.
The only intrigue is coming off the pitch, where the exciting and in-demand Saido Berahino has been ostracised after throwing his toys out of the pram at the end of the summer transfer window. The young forward may yet force a move in January. In the absence of watchable fare at the Hawthorns, Baggies fans are busy watching this space.
Of course, this is exactly what West Brom’s board want: after flirting with relegation in recent years, mid-table mediocrity allows for better long-term planning (read: a guaranteed slice of the billions on offer to Premier League clubs next year). Presumably, upon receiving their share of the cash and having an amusing money-fight in the boardroom, West Brom’s suits will dispense with official club merchandise enthusiast Pulis and hire a manager capable of creating a team that gets the fans off their seats. Until then, they’re happily stuck in their holding pattern.
The Season Ahead
Given Pulis’ tried and tested policy of ensuring that nothing interesting or memorable happens on his watch, nothing interesting or memorable will happen. Perhaps Berahino will move to Tottenham this month. Perhaps Jonas Olsson will briefly become a useful budget defender option in Fantasy Football. Perhaps one or more of West Brom’s players will come in for criticism for an outrageously forceful leg-breaking tackle. That’s about it.
West Brom’s players are trapped in a dystopian nightmare in which the rules and objectives of football have been reshaped by pure evil.
People can’t play the game unless they’re at least 185cm tall. Passes can’t be played unless they cover a distance of 60 metres or more. Goals don’t count unless they’re scored with the forehead. Short passes are all-but banned. Dribbling is all-but banned. Shooting is all-but banned.
Possession is meaningless and positioning is all important. If you have the ball, you must kick it as far as you can. If the other team has the ball, you must maintain your position in a deep, narrow and compact unit, protecting the centre-backs and minimising the opponents’ number of available forward passes. If an opponent has the ball near you, you are obliged to attempt to end his career.
The object of football is not to win by scoring goals: it is to avoid defeat by not conceding goals. Scoring goals is not an aim: it is an occupational hazard. Football is good not because it is fun or creative or exciting: it is good because it allows you to break other people’s bones with impunity.
This is the reality of life as a West Brom player. May God have mercy on them all.
Let’s not dwell on this.
Given the amount of time Pulis apparently devotes to this on the training ground, it’s no surprise that his team is generally very good at covering space and preventing the opposition getting into good areas, rendering their inevitable domination of the ball rather impotent.
It's hard to find space in between the lines and find good positions to shoot. While West Brom have inevitably conceded a rather high 14.1 shots per game this season, only 4.2 of those have hit the target. A further 73.5% of those shots on target have been saved. In short: they’re good defensively.
At the other end, although they don’t take many shots, the Baggies have a fairly high conversion rate: 27.9% of their shots on target have resulted in goals this season, a figure bettered by only six Premier League teams.
Making people happy.
[Ed: be professional, Rob.] Ahem. Like all Pulis sides, they don’t score goals very often primarily because they don’t shoot very often. Only Newcastle have taken fewer shots than West Brom in the Premier League this season and even the Magpies have worked the opposition keeper more often. Pulis’s side have registered a mere 63 shots on target in this season’s 20 games, somehow resulting in a return of 20 goals.
Unsurprisingly, given their manager’s status as football’s biggest hater of flair, creativity and human joy, West Brom don’t have (m)any players who can and do pass or dribble, meaning their method of transitioning from defence to attack is a rudimentary thump up the pitch towards Rondón’s chest. Their average of 261 short passes per game is the league’s lowest, their average of 7.7 dribbles per game is the second lowest, and their total of 72 long balls per game is the second highest. They’re effective at times, but mostly they’re just boring and easy to play against.
West Brom will presumably look to pack the middle and play for a 0-0 and they have no injuries or suspensions that will impede such a Plan A. Jonas Olsson is carrying a knock but should figure, while first-choice keeper Ben Foster may dislodge Boaz Myhill having returned from a long layoff in the recent FA Cup game against Bristol City.
Chelsea will be without Eden Hazard (what a shame?) while Oscar, Matić, Diego Costa and Loïc Rémy are doubts with various minor injuries. We shouldn’t be surprised if Chelsea’s XI is somewhat unfamiliar, while John Obi Mikel and Ruben Loftus-Cheek may get starts having taken advantage of opportunities recently afforded to them.
I’ve seen this one before and it’s more predictable than Titanic. West Brom will come, they will see, they will be conquered (2-0).