Our series of articles on the promoted sides continues with a look at West Bromwich Albion’s midfielders and forwards.
WHAT IS WEST BROMWICH ALBION’S GOAL-SCORING POTENTIAL?
West Brom were promoted from the Championship with the joint-second-best attacking record, having scored 77 goals – the same as champions Leeds United – in their 46 league fixtures.
That was three short of Brentford’s total and 16 fewer than Norwich City had managed in 2018/19.
No side from the English second tier plundered more goals than the Baggies on their own turf (44) but four clubs scored on more occasions than Slaven Bilic’s troops on the road (33).
Albion were second behind Leeds for attempts on goal (676) and shots in the box (418) in 2019/20.
That they sealed automatic promotion with a limited strike force (not one of their players was in the top 30 for Championship goals scored) was some achievement but their overreliance on Pereira and lack of a top-class striker is something that needs addressing this summer, as Albion fan and ex-sports journalist Matt Wilson told us:
At the moment, a lot is reliant on how Pereira plays.
Albion need to sign a first-choice striker this summer because Hal Robson-Kanu and Kenneth Zohore are probably not Premier League quality, even though Robson-Kanu’s just had the best season of his career, and while Charlie Austin knows where the net is, he’s got a lot of miles in his legs now.
Grady Diangana provided a real threat on loan from West Ham last season, and would have scored more if he hadn’t been injured, but whether we can re-sign him either on loan or permanently remains to be seen.
In my opinion, Albion need to sign a striker and a winger this summer or they could struggle to score.
Starts: 38 | Substitute appearances: 4 | Goals: 8 | Assists: 16
The stand-out Fantasy option from the West Brom attack, and perhaps the only convincing one at present, is Mateus Pereira.
The Brazilian was signed on a season-long loan deal from Sporting CP last summer, with the move set to become permanent imminently.
After a handful of substitute appearances, his full Albion debut came in the Championship equivalent of Gameweek 6 and he went on to start 38 of the Baggies’ remaining 41 games, missing two of them through suspension.
Featuring chiefly in ‘the hole’ in Bilic’s 4-2-3-1, Pereira was moved to a right-wing role upon the switch to a 4-3-3 earlier this calendar year, with the absence of a number ten in that system still allowing the Brazilian to drift infield into dangerous possessions on his favoured left foot.
Wherever he plays, he is key to Albion’s attack.
A total of 16 assists (and that’s discounting ‘Fantasy assists’) and 116 chances created were not only highs in the West Brom squad but the best in the entire division.
No Albion player could match Pereira’s shot count (111), either, with only eight Championship players – many of them bona fide strikers – beating that tally.
His total of 20 big chances created was another figure that was unsurpassed in the English second tier in 2019/20.
On a share of corner-taking duties and first in line for direct free-kicks, Pereira may offer multiple routes to Fantasy points next season.
The problem with that, of course, is that FPL Towers are likely to have already taken notice.
We can cite the cases of Mario Vrancic and Ryan Sessegnon in previous seasons, with both players coming up from the Championship off the back of excellent campaigns and slapped with prohibitive £6.5m price tags.
He is unlikely to be anything less than £6.0m based on past evidence but he was the first name that former Express and Star reporter Matt Wilson picked out when we spoke last week:
The obvious attacking candidate [for FPL managers] is Matheus Pereira, who was Albion’s creative spark last season. Not only did he contribute 16 assists, the most by any player in a single Championship season for five years, he also scored eight goals. He takes free-kicks and corners, and Slaven Bilic is expected to build his attack around him.
Starts: 24 | Substitute appearances: 15 | Goals: 10 | Assists: 1
Whether West Brom adopt a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3, there is only room for one striker in Bilic’s set-up.
Hal Robson-Kanu was the go-to striker from November onwards, with 22 of his 24 starts coming from the Championship equivalent of Gameweeks 16-39.
The Wales international was the Baggies’ joint-top scorer on 10 goals, his best-ever tally in 11 seasons of professional football.
That perhaps tells FPL managers all they need to know and, as we discussed earlier, there are obvious reservations about whether the 31-year-old forward can belatedly make the step up to the Premier League.
Full of endeavour and decent at holding the ball up, Robson-Kanu is nevertheless not a natural goal-getter and Bilic will surely look to bolster his striking options over the summer.
‘Impact substitute’ or willing runner in the trickier away games may well be the Welshman’s remit in 2020/21, then.
Starts: 18 | Substitute appearances: 16 | Goals: 10 | Assists: 2
While Robson-Kanu isn’t an instinctive goalscorer, Charlie Austin very much is.
The former Southampton man recorded almost twice as many big chances (22) as any other Albion player despite starting just 18 games, with all but seven of his 54 shots coming from inside the opposition area.
Only the sparingly used Kenneth Zohore had better accuracy than Austin among West Brom’s attacking options, with 44.4% of the latter’s shots landing on target.
Austin took four of West Brom’s seven penalties in 2019/20, with Zohore (two) and Robson-Kanu (one) responsible for the others.
While he may be adept at finding the opposition net, his lack of mobility and that poacher’s mindset arguably means that he is not a natural fit for Bilic’s system, where the lone frontman is required to put in the graft.
Indeed, Austin was benched in 26 of the 44 Championship matches he was available for last season.
Given the step up in class in the Premier League, the 31-year-old striker may see pitch-time even more restricted next season.
Starts: 30 | Substitute appearances: 9 | Goals: 7 | Assists: 6
FPL managers may remember Matt Phillips‘ previous contributions as a budget midfielder for Albion, QPR and Blackpool and he will return for a fifth season as a Premier League player in 2019/20.
How prominent a role he will play is another question.
Phillips made more Championship starts (30) than all of the Baggies’ attacking midfielders bar Pereira last season but only three of them arrived in the final 16 matches, with indifferent form, a change of shape and the arrival of some January window signings shunting him down the pecking order.
Although an inconsistent performer, seven goals in his first 18 starts of the season did underscore what he is capable of on his day.
Operating almost exclusively on the right flank in a 4-2-3-1, he was the sacrificial lamb when Bilic moved Pereira out wide from a number ten role upon the change to a 4-3-3.
Up until that point, Phillips had been responsible for a large chunk of the Baggies’ set plays and indeed none of his teammates took more corners than the winger (120) over the whole of 2019/20.
Pereira (20) was the only Albion player who created more big chances (14) than Phillips last season.
FILIP KROVINOVIC, GRADY DIANGANA AND CALLUM ROBINSON
Starts: 24 | Substitute appearances: 16 | Goals: 3 | Assists: 2
Starts: 23 | Substitute appearances: 7 | Goals: 8 | Assists: 6
Starts: 10 | Substitute appearances: 6 | Goals: 3 | Assists: 2
These three players all made key contributions to the promotion push but all were loanees and it’s by no means certain that they will be back at The Hawthorns in 2020/21.
Krovinovic perhaps looks the likeliest to return, with West Brom reportedly in discussions over a second loan from Benfica.
He appeared in 40 of Albion’s 46 league matches last season but 16 of those came as a substitute and there would have to be concerns about security of starts should he rejoin the Baggies this summer.
Having ceded control of the number ten slot to Pereira early in the season, the Croat started just four games between Gameweeks 6 and 23 of the Championship campaign.
A change of system after Christmas saw Krovinovic return to the fold and it may be that his chances of starts in the top flight hinge on Albion’s formation.
With Bilic using a 4-3-3 more and more in the second half of the campaign, Krovinovic was deployed in a three-man central midfield with Romaine Sawyers and Jake Livermore.
Three goals and two assists doesn’t scream huge Fantasy potential, however.
Grady Diangana and Callum Robinson would be slightly more attractive picks, should they return to the West Midlands.
Both players we know about from their stints in the Premier League and Robinson was briefly an ‘out of position’ FPL midfielder to consider in 2019/20, before temporarily departing from Sheffield United in January.
Both loanees spent most of their time on the left flank under Bilic.
Robinson was thrust straight into the starting XI upon his move but, after nine successive starts, was dropped to the bench in the next seven games and only returned on the final day – surprisingly as a central striker – against QPR.
Two of his five attacking returns indeed came in that 2-2 draw with the Rs.
Muscle problems in December and January disrupted Diangana’s season but he was a regular in the first half of the campaign, starting 12 straight games from Gameweeks 9-20.
Returning from injury after lockdown, he was mostly the preferred option down the left flank in the run-in – but ‘mostly’ is the operative word there and, unlike Pereira, was still prone to rotation amid the fixture pile-up.
Diangana and Robinson both bested Pereira for ‘big chances’ last season despite playing far fewer minutes (nine each v five for Pereira), with Robinson in particular posting some eye-catching numbers.
|Player||Mins per shot||Mins per shot in box||Mins per shot on target||Mins per chance created|
Starts: 42 | Goals: 1 | Assists: 1
Unless Bilic reinforces his options in the middle of the park this summer, Romaine Sawyers is destined to be one of the £4.5m FPL midfielders we can count on for starts and little else next season.
The Saints Kitts and Nevis international joined from Brentford last summer and started 42 of Albion’s 46 league fixtures, with three of his no-shows enforced by suspension.
A Bilic signing, he is clearly a big favourite of his manager’s and has been hailed as “instrumental” by the Albion head coach.
The midfield metronome played in the double-pivot of a 4-2-3-1 with Jake Livermore for much of the campaign and, when Bilic switched to a 4-3-3, was the deepest-lying player in that central midfield trio.
Six shots in the box and one goal in 42 appearances highlights his lack of Fantasy appeal and, while one assist undersells his overall contribution the team, a minutes-per-chance-created average of 97.9 cements his status as FPL bench fodder.
Starts: 43 | Substitute appearances: 2 | Goals: 3 | Assists: 4
Sawyers’ partner in crime for much of 2019/20, Jake Livermore at least chipped in with a few more attacking returns than his aforementioned teammate.
A workhorse, aggressive presser and perhaps more renowned for his defensive contributions (he made more successful tackles than any of his teammates last season), Livermore has nevertheless had more license to get forward than Sawyers, registering almost three times as many shots as his midfield colleague (55 v 19).
The ex-Spurs and Hull player was particularly ‘box to box’ when Bilic switched to a 4-3-3 after Christmas, with the Albion manager discussing his tactical tweak :
To be fair Jake has been up there the whole season, no matter which position. Whether he’s playing deeper, or like recently further up the pitch.
It gives Jake, not a free license, but a license to press them higher and to join them up in the box, to be more free, which is good.
Livermore created even fewer chances than Sawyers last season (36 v 38) and seems pretty much guaranteed to be in the £4.5m-£5.0m bracket when FPL relaunches.
Signed from Cardiff City for a reported £8m last summer, Kenneth Zohore started only five Championship matches for Albion and racked up fewer minutes of pitch-time than 19 of his teammates in 2019/20.
The striker scored on just three occasions – twice from the penalty spot – and only made Bilic’s starting XI once after August, failing to even make the matchday squad in over half of his side’s fixtures.
Reports suggest the Baggies will be prepared to listen to offers for the Dane this summer.
Such is the state of flux that Albion find themselves in at present that wingers Kamil Grosicki and Kyle Edwards could be either surplus to requirements or in line for a start in Gameweek 1.
Attacking midfielders Pereira, Krovinovic, Diangana and Robinson played prominent roles for Bilic in the promotion-winning campaign but all will need replacing if their moves aren’t made permanent or another loan deal is not agreed upon.
Grosicki was signed from Hull City in January but had to wait until July for his full Albion debut, having only seen action off the bench before that.
The Poland international then started four games in a row on the left flank but was back among the substitutes by the season’s end, having contributed one goal and three assists in his 492 minutes of game-time.
Inclined to cut inside and shoot on his favoured right foot, Grosicki averaged a goal attempt every 30.8 minutes for Albion in 2019/20.
He also scored four direct free-kick goals for Hull in league and cup last season but faces a tough task in ousting Pereira from dead-ball duties with the Baggies.
Edwards, who progressed through Albion’s academy system before making his club debut in 2018/19, started the season out as first choice down the left flank but the arrivals of Diangana, Robinson and Grosicki ate into his pitch-time and he didn’t make a single Championship start from February onwards.
Almost two-thirds (17 of 26) of his appearances came as a substitute, with the 22-year-old scoring twice but failing to register a single assist.
Squad player status looks likely at best, along with a cheap FPL price tag.
That may well also be the case for Rekeem Harper although, following the rise to prominence of John Lundstram (who barely featured in Sheffield United’s promotion-winning campaign), never say never.
Harper started only four Championship matches last season, barely featuring in the first half of 2019/20 before twice deputising for the unavailable Sawyers in February.
A central midfielder by trade, he isn’t likely to appeal even if he is given game-time: he managed only one shot in the box and two key passes in his ten run-outs in the season just gone.
Chris Brunt departed last month after 13 years with the Baggies, while 39-year-old Gareth Barry also becomes a free agent this summer.
Oliver Burke is at the opposite end of his career but has spent the last 18 months out on loan at Celtic and Alaves and is thought to be on his way out of The Hawthorns.
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