In a new pre-season regular, we analyse known Fantasy targets shifting clubs and those teams under new stewardship. How will new surroundings influence on-field matters and what benefits, if any, can be gained by us Fantasy managers? We start with one of several managerial changes so far this summer.
As Roy Hodgson prepares his Three Lions for a Euro 2012 quarter-final showdown with Italy this upcoming Sunday, back at the Hawthorns there’s a new man in charge. Hodgson’s decision to take up the reins of the England national team left West Brom with a managerial breach to fill and, in an appointment that took some by surprise, have installed former Liverpool coach Steve Clarke on a two-year contract.
Despite reported interest from the likes of Ralf Rangnick and Claudio Ranieri, the midlands outfit have instead handed the Scotsman his first managerial post, with sporting and technical director Dan Ashworth revealing the reasoning behind Clarke’s installation:
“From the outset, we decided to pursue candidates who are renowned for their coaching ability and Steve was very much at the forefront of our thoughts because of the clubs he has worked at and the high regard he is held in within the game. After holding talks with Steve, he emerged as the outstanding candidate.”
While the appointment marks his debut as a head coach, Clarke has plenty of top-flight experience, having spent 14 years as a number two. In spells with Newcastle, Chelsea, West Ham and Liverpool, he’s worked with some of the biggest names in the business, including Sir Bobby Robson, Jose Mourinho, Gianfranco Zola and Kenny Dalglish, and has built his name as one of the most efficient defensive coaches in the domestic game. While he has yet to prove himself as a manager in his own right, Clarke reckons that working under such illustrious names can only stand him in good stead:
“If you work with good people and don’t take the best from each of them, you make yourself look a little bit stupid. Man-management and how to handle people was the biggest thing I took from Sir Bobby. (He) showed me how you manage and use the right word at the right time to the right person. From Jose, I took his thorough attention to detail. Everything he did was set out, almost from the first minute I met him. He never did anything without a reason. He never did anything just to be clever.”
The Previous Regime
Hodgson lasted a season and a half at the Hawthorns, taking over the reins in February 2010 after the dismissal of Roberto Di Matteo. The former Fulham boss chalked up five wins and five draws in his 12 games over the 2010/11 campaign and steered the Baggies to an 11th place finish – their highest in the top-flight for three decades.
Last term they finished in 10th position, though their displays in front of the West Brom fans were relatively disappointing. The Baggies lost 10 times at home – only the bottom three boasted inferior records – and found the net on just 21 occasions, the third worst goal tally in the league. From a Fantasy perspective, this saw Peter Odemwingie’s potential dwindle considerably as the Nigerian’s attacking returns dried after a sensational first season. At the back, West Brom returned seven home clean sheets, with five of those coming in their last seven matches at the Hawthorns.
Away from home, it was a different story. In terms of points accrued, West Brom had the sixth best record in the league and picked up 26 points – only one less than Spurs and Newcastle. A total of 24 goals scored was the same number as Chelsea, however, with Hodgson’s favoured 4-4-1-1 system best-suited to catching opponents on the counter. Defensively, though, they held little appeal for Fantasy managers, with just two clean sheets returned on their travels.
The Season Ahead
From a Fantasy perspective, there’s nothing more frustrating than a change of regime disrupting our best-laid plans. Only last season, the arrival of Andre Villas-Boas to Stamford Bridge, for example, lessened Chelsea’s propensity for clean sheets considerably; with the Blues backline failing to adjust to a high defensive line, they were caught on the counter time and again, thus rendering their Fantasy assets virtually redundant at the back.
Clarke, however, is far more appreciative of the stability a solid defensive base brings. The new man is keen to build on Hodgson’s success and is more than aware of the afore-mentioned problems his new side found at the Hawthorns last time round:
“I don’t want to lose the strengths that the club had last season. They were really well-organised, disciplined and hard to beat. That is the first priority for anybody. On top of that I’d like to add my own little stamp and we can hopefully become a little bit more attacking, especially at home.”
Already, he is looking to acquire the services of Ben Foster on a permanent deal. The keeper was the top scoring Fantasy Premier League (FPL) player for the Baggies last term, returning 140 points, but has since returned to parent club Birmingham City after his season-long loan deal came to an end. Only this week, Dan Ashworth revealed the club were in talks with the Blues and were hopeful of pushing a move through, while the Baggies have also moved to deny any talks of a possible exit for Jonas Olsson. The centre-half has been linked with a move to West Ham but Clarke is determined to hold onto the Swede as he looks to build from the back, going on to say:
“I want to keep all the contracted players and bring in another two or three. Olsson is a key player for the team and the club.”
Elsewhere, Clarke inherits the likes of Liam Ridgewell, who excelled as a Fantasy prospect upon his arrival from Birmingham and averaged 4.7 points per game over the second half of the season. Chris Brunt’s creativity out wide and set-piece threat could be a crucial aspect of the new manager’s thoughts, while Odemwingie could see a resurgence and hopefully hit the heights of the 2010/11 season that brought 171 points his way; a haul of 114 last time round sums up his reduced threat in Hodgson’s only full campaign in charge.
Monday’s fixture list handed the Baggies boss a tricky start to his new career. The fates have conspired to present an opening day home fixture against his former Anfield employers, with a trip to Tottenham amongst a starting schedule that reads (LIV, tot, EVE, ful, RDG, avl). Daunting, perhaps, but Clarke is more than confident he can step up to the task – while he has admitted he can pick up the phone and turn to Mourinho for advice if matters take a turn for the worse, it’s a call he’ll be hoping he never has to make.
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