Pepe Mel’s West Brom debut as manager was solid if unspectacular. The Baggies drew 1-1 with Everton at the Hawthorns Monday night in a match that was more entertaining than one may have expected before the match.
The Spanish manager got a positive reception from the home crowd as he made his entrance to the pitch right before kickoff. This set the tone for a spirited effort from the home side.
Mel has somewhat naively spoken of ball possession being the key for the club going forward despite the fact that the club is in a relegation scrap and needs points not style to survive. The principles were already on display in his team selection and the ball movement the Baggies displayed throughout the match.
Everton under Roberto Martinez have become the standard eye test for stylish passing football in the Premier League this season. Mel’s West Brom side, while not necessarily at the Toffees level, showed an ability to hold the ball and create chances from possession that will serve them well down the road. Matej Vydra and James Morrison looked particularly good in this match and with the new style as did the controversial Nicolas Anelka.
Much of Mel’s initial setup revolved around Anelka’s ability to link up with teammates and drift into wide areas. The Frenchman though is likely to be unavailable for the club anytime soon following The FA charging Anelka today for his now infamous fascist tinged quenelle salute that could result in a five match ban. A veteran leader like Anelka is often times critical when a new manager comes in and Mel quickly has established a rapport with the well-traveled striker. However, his looming suspension coupled with the club’s decision to sell Shane Long to Hull City puts West Brom in a quandary from a striking standpoint.
Post match Mel, in broken English (see video below), told Sky Sports he needed a new striker before the end of the January window to replace the departed Long. Now with Anelka likely unavailable for at least a month, Mel might have to dip even further into the transfer market.
The early returns were promising for the Baggies and the point takes them ever so slightly further from the drop zone. Mel’s philosophy of ball possession and passing will be tested no doubt as the relegation fight heats up in the coming weeks, but so far, so good.
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