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Are West Bromwich Albion destined for the drop?

Tony Pulis and Sam Allardyce – two men with a very similar style of management, and a very special, for lack of a better word, ‘tag’ associated with them. That tag being that they’ve never taken a team down.

For several years, various analysts and pundits, when talking about clubs under crises, have always pointed in the direction of the aforementioned managers, saying that there is no-one who knows the relegation battle quite like they do, and therefore no one better equipped to deal with the threat of relegation than them.

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Similarities Tony Pulis’s West Brom and Sam Alladryce’s West Ham shared were the fact that, first and foremost, they would get the job done. Their style of play was far from pretty, it was never easy on the eyes, it was 90 minutes of play for one goal, and one goal only – Frustrate the opposition. They were set up very defensively, and had to go about most of the match without the ball. However, in defence, their organisation was fantastic. The full backs, very often, used to drop in alongside the centre halves, creating a flat back 4/ back 5 with very little space in between 2 defenders, and the defensive midfielders shielding the back 4.

The second similarity was in the discipline. Without the ball, one has to run from end of the pitch to another, and very frequently, it doesn’t win you the ball back, which obviously builds up frustration. Both these dies were very calm off the ball, and did not give away too many set pieces for the opposition to build from. The third way was how both managers attacked set pieces. Both sides knew that defending with 8 men was not going to get them too much joy up front, and so they had to look for set piece specialists.

One man who could send in a good ball, and the others who could attack it with good, proper intent. Very often, it was Mark Noble and Chris Brunt behind the dead ball, and the likes of Andy Carroll, Winston Reid, Enner Valencia, James Collins, Gareth McAuley, Salomon Rondon and Craig Dawson behind it. When such big, strong and tall men attack the ball, more often than not, it ends up in the back of the net, which the same men then put all their energy into defending (The lead, i.e.).

When you walked into Boleyn Ground or the Hawthorns, or when those sides walked into your home ground, it was extremely obvious as to how the next 90 minutes would unfold. Extremely quick, one and two touch passing, rapid movement off the ball, and a good eye to spot said run was required to break them down. These teams played the most negative of styles against top opposition, but it was quite often that they walked away with a hard earned point, or on occasion, three.

Things shot up for Big Sam as he was offered the post of England national football team manager, but it was owing to some supposedly shady business going on under the table, that he lost his job, and with it, his stock. However, his name was thrown into the fray when Everton decided to part ways with Ronald Koeman, but a formal approach was not made. On the other hand, Tony Pulis guided his side to 10th place last season, but a terrible start to this one meant that his position too, was under threat. West Brom looked, simply put, utterly lost on the pitch. The defence was ageing, and their ability to read the game was surprisingly diminishing. Teams were able to cut through West Brom’s set up with relative ease. With the ball, there was no creativity, no urgency, and consequently, no goals. When you ship goals regularly at one end, and do nothing to even the score the other, it generally earns your manager a pink slip.

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This West Brom side was set up to suit Pulis’s demand, and tweaked to match his philosophy, his style, his ideology. To be straightforward and blunt, the current West Brom side that shipped 3 to Man City, 4 to Chelsea, that has the worst percentage share of possession this season in the PL, that has completed the least amount of passes in the PL this season, that has the least touches and the second least shots on target, is in a state of stagnation and lack of direction. The defence is very slow, the midfield likewise, the attack deprived of all service, no width in the play, and Gareth Barry the most creative player of those on the pitch. These facts are detrimental to any side’s hopes of retaining their Premier League status, and I sincerely put my hats off to Tony Pulis for being able to find the right mix, the good chemistry which got him results with a side that most managers would pass up the opportunity to manage, and likely see as a manager’s undoing.

The reason I was putting Sam Allardyce’s West Ham into the picture of comparison was because I don’t think that the hierarchy at The Hawthorns would be able to attract a top class manager who played fluent and free flowing football and say, “Here’s 30 million for the January window, the squad’s yours to do whatever you see fit. Just keep us up.” The only man who I can see can viably embrace this challenge is Big Sam himself, having built a similar squad not too long back in the day, and who is of course, no stranger to the Premier League and the demands of keeping a side up, and with it, the effort and the mentality it takes to achieve that goal.

It is because of the squad that West Brom currently have and the style of play that they are used to playing, that I cannot see them staying up in the Premier League this season, if they get any manager other than Sam Allardyce. 

Written by Ayush Verma.

Ayush Verma

20. Student at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore. Manchester City correspondent for 90MAAT

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