Best starting XI
For the starting XI the goalkeeper has to be Boaz Myhill out of pure necessity with Ben Foster unavailable. The Baggies have enlisted the help of Anders Lindegaard, but nobody really knows how good he actually is. For Manchester United to let him leave on a free would suggest not very, but time will tell. However, if all three are fit Foster gets the nod between the sticks.
The back four would consist of three centre-backs of the 72 Albion now have on their books! At right-back it would be Craig Dawson, not exceptional going forward but solid enough and has just enough pace to get up and down the pitch.
The CB spots are a difficult choice to make. Jonas Olsson is not preferred anymore, although he has been a good servant to the club his talents would now be more appreciated in the Championship = he is almost laughable with the ball at his feet. It’s a tough decision between Gareth McAuley and new boy from Hull City, James Chester. McAuley just edges it for now. This is the last year that he will be able to play effectively at the highest level and Pulis may have signed Chester with that in mind. To partner him Jonny Evans, although yet to wear the shirt his vast experience and relationship with McAuley at international level will see him ease into the setup without much disruption.
Chris Brunt gets the left-back spot. His very limited pace has all but disappeared, so having him in midfield is carrying a player, he can graft but pace is important at the top. People will talk about his ‘magical’ left foot, he can use it at left-back and it isn’t that magical. He doesn’t do badly in the air and he can still pass a ball. The link with Evans on the international stage only increases the case for him to hold the position. It should, however be noted that forgotten man Sebastien ocognoli is still at the club and there are fans questioning what in the world he has done wrong?
If it were my best XI it would be a four man midfield, although I know Pulis favors five. For the four I would have James McClean and Steve McManaman on the wings. Give them freedom to run at players, which is where their effectiveness lies. Both have started the season lively and if their quality and delivery improves they could be real danger men in the Pulis system.
A slow start to this season for the captain and new club leader Darren Fletcher, but he would still make the best XI. His leadership, combative nature and winning mentality are important in building momentum, playing from the back and when under pressure. His partner has to be James Morrison, under Pulis he looks a new player. His game has been reinvigorated, sparking a better campaign for the man that has been suspect for a while now.
Missing out are Chris Gardner, Claudio Yacob and Serge Gnabry, who will all have their part to play as the season goes on.
Although record signing Saloman Rondon is still searching for his match sharpness, but he would be in the best XI over Rickie Lambert – very hard to play these two together. With only two spots up top the other goes to that troublesome character Saido Berahino. His want-away partner Berahino is yet to show us anything this season but we all know what he can do. It is a crucial time in his life and career where he needs to decide what man and player he wants to become. We shall see how he is after the international break, he unquestionably has talent, but as we all know that will only get you so far. To make silly statements about how he has been treated at a club who has nurtured him since age 10 is a foolish move. He now needs to get his head down and apply himself; being a striker gives you a chance to make a quick fix, bang in a few and the fans will be singing your name.
This accolade can sit in the glove compartment of Pulis’s motor for now, nobody deserves it after the start that West Brom have made.
Most improved player
Morrison deserves this gong. It is a strange time in his career to be saying that but after the last couple of seasons in that midfield with Graham Dorrans and Brunt his game had stifled. Hopefully he can continue to improve under the watchful eyes of the manager and give a little back to a club that has continued to pick him in spite of his lackluster performances.
Business completed in transfer window
The signing or Zenit hitman Rondon was the big money move for Albion in this summer window. When the deal went through a memory of the departed Ideye Brown snuck gently into Albion minds and just nestled in, waiting to see another bumbling start and a striker lacking in confidence. Fortunately after his first couple of games it’s looking to be an astute signing. Signed for his qualities that Pulis likes in a frontman Rondon is strong, tall and not afraid to mix it up.
Lambert has joined the ranks after a torrid time at Liverpool, his dead ball skill and aerial presence can only be a good headache for the manager when selecting his starting XI.
Evans is an experienced center-back and James Chester fits the bill of the six foot plus players that Pulis seems to be working towards.
McClean is worth a punt at £1.5m and Gnabry looks a promising prospect that may bring intelligence to a side full or grafters and giants.
In goal Lindegaard supplies competition for Foster and Myhill. Lindegaard will be a long-term back-up when Foster is fully fit and when Myhill inevitably decides to leave and become a number 1 in the Championship.
Albion departed with former record signing Brown after a disappointing time with the club. The Nigerian striker failed to recreate any of the form that got him his dream move to England and after a year he’s been flown over to Greece for a massive £6 million loss. Not many would be surprised if he found some form and started scoring, not that there are too many challenging games in the Greece Superleague.
The Albion have also departed with long serving ball winner Youssouf Mulumbu to Norwich City, Chris Baird has been made captain at Derby County and Joeleon Lescott sold up the road for a couple of million to Aston Villa. Lescott, arguably the most substantial loss after a solid year, but when you perceive the sale £2 million for a player in the twilight of his career then it isn’t bad business. One move that is a sad one for a lot of fans is the departure of Dorrans. So much potential to be a class act, Dorrans was given time and supported by the Hawthorns fans. He suffered with a couple of personal issues in his time at the club and overall his promise was never filled.
Rating the manager
Not great, not yet anyway. He has put the pieces in place for the Pulis jigsaw to come together, also known as a load of big fellas and a couple of wingers. Players that will run all game and commit to the fight. When the club start picking up points hopefully the atmosphere will be more positive and produce some better soccer. Any which way you want to look at it a 1-0 win at nine-man Stoke is not a good result. Fletcher and Pulis both came out and said that ‘3 points is 3 points’; very astute. 1-0 against nine-men for 60 minutes plus is far from acceptable, and the fact the Baggies were hanging on for the last 10 minutes is embarrassing.
There might also be some disgruntled fans wondering why he failed to sign a recognised right-back or left-back. He doesn’t rate Pocognoli or Christian Gamboa yet declined to bring in a wing back, which leaves the team with very limited width. It would have given him another option with two bombing on from the back and overlapping the wingers. Particularly with his preference for crosses being delivered, Rondon and Lambert need the supply to do their business in front of goal.
Forecast for remainder of season
The forecast looks rainy (slow start) with a chance of sunshine (a few wins) as the season develops. Grafting, disciplined performances are on the agenda. When gelled and the strikers are firing it could be a mid-table finish.
Overall rating out of 5
3. Pulis has never been relegated as a manager, nothing to suggest that record will be broken this time around. Not very exciting but will get the job done, I wouldn’t imagine the club will be relegated.
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