When exciting football goes to die, it looks up where Tony Pulis currently manages, buys a map, a train ticket, then a shovel, and embarks without fanfare to tidily self-inter at its final resting plot. West Brom does, however, consistently offer a few favourably priced assets a season that delivers respectable returns while releasing funds for elsewhere, so it’s not all gloom in the gulags of Brum. While caricatured (fairly accurately) as a no-nonsense tactician who frowns on exciting football, Pulis represents a known quantity who gets results, or really he consistently gets the same one for which clubs hire him: a steady 40 points, safety from relegation assured. Then, for reasons of his own, he has everyone down tools, beached for the final run in—his take on Claudio Ranieri’s pizza incentive, perhaps. That’s when it sucks to hold onto West Brom assets. We can return to that if and when that happens later in the season, but how’s the team looking right now, champing at the bit to break out the gates?
West Brom Preview
First off, the fixtures look inviting: Bournemouth, Stoke City and West Ham at home, Burnley and Brighton away as the first five matchups. West Brom faces only two teams from last year’s top six in the first 11 game-weeks. But then there’s the form from the end of last season. The extent of the West Brom collapse after guaranteed safety late-season still surprises. From March 4, 2017, WBA took only 5 points from its final 12 matches. That works out to two draws and 9 losses in 11 of the final twelve matches–relegation-level form akin to Derby County a few years back.
Perhaps one could forgive Pulis a defence that ground out 5 scoreless draws. But three of the points came from when he did actually get his tail up to whoop uppity Arsene Wenger’s team good, at which point the real Pulis Brom showed in full force. West Brom smacked three past the Arsenal defence, conceded just one, then flopped back down on the sand for the rest of the season. Aside from that managerial spite win, though, West Brom lost 9 times, drew twice, and delivered just one clean sheet in its last 12 matches.
In short, West Brom doesn’t come off a scintillating end of the season. The team turned up no real trees in the preseason, one characterised mainly by lacklustre form, though not to the extent of fully eliminating targets of interest. The main prospects scored or assisted during that time. On the plus side, since it’s season’s beginning, we are principally evaluating early season buys—let the future sort itself out. And in the early season, Pulis teams give everything. A few performers will emerge, and early investment in Ben Foster (4.5), Craig Dawson (5.0), Matt Phillips (6.5) or Rodriguez (6.0), could prove canny, inexpensive and points-productive if one trusts Pulis can energize the squad into a motivated attack and tighter defence.
The squad has otherwise seen little churn. Matt Phillips (6.0) and Nacer Chadli (6.0) have no reason to significantly fall off from last season, especially as injury curtailed their minutes last season and both did well by FPL managers when healthy. New boy Jay Rodriguez (6.0) injects new blood into a woefully underperforming attack.
The defence still has a solid goalkeeper in Ben Foster (4.5), a backline with Craig Dawson (5.0), Gareth McAuley (5.0) and Johnny Evans (5.0) that scored many of the team’s goals last season but which failed to grind out the usual Pulis team calling card of clean sheets. Not to minimize the also-signature approval of dirty tackles and occasional leg breaks. (Pulis is known for so very many things.) Pulis will want to improve upon the many squandered clean sheets from last year, thereby making the defence appealing, especially in light of an extremely kind initial run of fixtures.
West Brom Predicted XI
Penalties: Chadli, Morrison
Direct free kicks: Brunt, Rondon, Morrison
Indirect free kicks and corners: Philips, Brunt, McClean, Morrison
West Brom Defence
Ben Foster (4.5) offers the right price to qualify as a standard-issue cheap keeper for either short or long term. The more clean sheets, especially over the initial run, the more his price will rise, although he already enjoys high ownership. Please also keep in mind, Foster is not Forster, the Southampton keeper. Knowing this is half the battle. Boaz Myhill (4.0) will deputize as needed.
Egyptian international Ahmed Hegazi (4.5), on a season-long loan from Egyptian side Al Ahly may keep Johnny Evans (5.0), Gareth McAuley (5.0), Michael Dawson (5.0) and Allan Nyom (5.0) on their toes and complicate selection, but perhaps not straight off.
New captain Johnny Evans (5.0) wears the tag of “injury prone” for a reason, so his fitness remains key to any notion of investment. He has talent, as shown in the past. Surprise 2016/2017 goal merchant Gareth McAuley (5.0) seems unlikely to repeat his six-goal haul from last season. Probability suggests regression for McAuley, 38 in December. Any player would struggle to replicate last year’s conversion rate–he scored from six of seven shots on target last term. Further, McAuley didn’t score in the league after Gameweek 26.
In Gameweek 26, however, Craig Dawson (5.0) scored his first goal of the season and then added three more by the end of the campaign, matching his goal tally from the year previous. At the moment, Dawson probably offers the most threat at set-pieces, that most classic of Pulisian tactics. Set pieces accounted for 20 of the team’s 43 goals last season.
Pulis has probably earmarked the Egyptian Ahmed Hegazi (4.5), 26, to a part-understudy role under McAuley, unless injuries dictate otherwise. For FPL managers, Hegazi’s entrance into the side could provide a great opportunity, in that at 4.5 he’s priced the cheapest of the West Brom defenders. No guarantees on whether he starts, but if it looks like he has the position locked down early on, you may want to invest early on. Hegazi helped Egypt to the 2017 African Cup of Nations final, named one of the centre-backs in the team of the tournament, so he isn’t a nobody. Both age and competition from Hegazi, who has deputized over preseason due to McAuley’s fitness, make the Northern Ireland international’s 131 FPL points from last season look a highly unsustainable number.
The team require more depth in defence. What Pulis does have is versatility in his options. Right back Dawson can play as a central defender, midfielder Chris Brunt (5.5) can fill into his occasional position as left back, big man Allan Nyom (5.0) can switch from left to right back.
West Brom Midfielders
Opening fixtures (broken record) make West Brom appealing, but who can you trust in the attack? Matt Phillips (6.0) and Nacer Chadli (6.0) can spring a surprise and step forward for consideration, though Chadli occasionally walks off the reservation without warning at times and both spent much of the season injured. Both still had purple patches through last season. Phillips scored 4 goals and assisted 9. Chadli scored 5, created 6.
Reclassified as a midfielder, Chris Brunt (5.5) no longer offers the out of position option but he can still come up with crosses, attacking points, as well as at least the one point for clean sheets. He scored 4, assisted 4 last year. The departure of former captain Darren Fletcher to Stoke elevates Claudio Yacob (4.5) in the pecking order, although one’s still best probably avoiding in FPL. Fletcher’s absence shouldn’t harm the team too much, although if the midfield falls apart in the first matches, you’d have to reevaluate it all in a new light. Plus, he got two goals and created two last year in a very goal-shy team.
January transfer Jake Livermore (5.0) steadies the midfield, with James Morrison (5.5) out injured, so monitor that situation—Morrison can step into the frame as a genuine option again if West Brom does find renewed potency in attack, and his presence on set pieces historically translates into good returns. He scored 5 and assisted 2, all told last year.
West Brom Forwards
Did no one at West Brom get the memo about the English player tax? Paying double, triple over the odds? In a shrewd gamble, West Brom signed Jay Rodriguez (6.0) for £12 million—pocket change in the current market. FPL kindly priced him at 6.0. West Brom have excellent opening fixtures. What’s not to like? For Rodriguez, to be blunt, his injury history. For West Brom, an overall weakness in attack.
Tony Pulis doesn’t hold much truck with gargantuan transfer fees. Jay Rodriguez (6.0) should nail down the support striker spot and deliver at an enviable price per million rate, as long as he can steer clear of the treatment room. The giant caveat of everything involves his injury past flaring up to injury present. With a full season without bad injury juju, one could fully imagine Rodriguez replicate his fantastic 15-goal 2013/2014 season at Southampton, until an April 2014 ACL injury struck and first team football for Rodriguez went on cryogenic freeze until now.
Salomon Rondón (6.5) only scored 8 goals last season, with three assists, meaning he needs all the help/support/shock therapy he can get. He earned an anemic 118 points for a lone striker– weak. He managed only two more goals than old man McAuley back in central defence. Rodriguez could very well see much of the ball in the final third, because it generally hasn’t been Rondón. A mutual partnership would obviously benefit both.
Sometimes flashy Welsh striker Hal Robson-Kanu (5.0) has scored twice in preseason, so his prospects combined with the impact of Rodriguez minutes put him on the periphery for the moment. He performed okay in his limited time last season, but he doesn’t sound off any world-beater klaxons.
West Brom Summary
If you trust West Brom to genuinely offer attacking threat and defensive resilience, go with your instincts. The time to invest is now. If you just fundamentally believe that West Brom have run their course and will finish in the relegation spots, it would be on account of losing some of the easiest fixtures (on paper), so back away cautiously invest elsewhere. But last year West Brom started strong–perhaps they will channel that point-getting spirit where they won their safety in the first half of last season. And then keep playing well, instead of tuning out. All things equal, with known quantities throughout the team, the defence should merit a look, at the least.
Pulis will want to improve on conceding goals—as always, attack secondary. And as for attack, a lion’s share of goals will result from set pieces. Salomon Rondón (6.5) and Jay Rodriguez (6.0) both work well in the air, and like Gareth McAuley (5.0) before (and still present–he’s not dead yet), Craig Dawson (5.0) seems to always find himself in the exact right place, ready to bury it. Allan Nyom (5.0) adds attack with a solid presence in defence, so even with the potential short-term injury to Johnny Evans (5.0), all should end okay.
Hosting Bournemouth, Stoke City and West Ham and travelling to Burnley and Brighton in the first five Gameweeks – it could be worse. Bear in mind that West Brom had favourable runs last season, as well, yet none of its midfielders made it nowhere near the top 15 in FPL last season, nor did any of its forwards make the top 10. (For context, Negredo took tenth with 130 points. Yes, for the relegated team that never scored.)
All in all, West Brom looks vaguely promising, in the most ambivalent way possible. However, whether one invests or avoids, we can all join hands in sing-song happiness, for the club now has another Albion in the league. Hallelujah, rejoice.