Premier League 2020-21 preview No 18: West Bromwich Albion | Football

Guardian writers’ predicted position: 20th (NB: this is not necessarily Ben Fisher’s prediction but the average of our writers’ tips)

Last season’s position: 2nd in the Championship

Odds to win the league (via Oddschecker): 1,000-1

West Brom wilted under the pressure of the final nine games of last season, failing to win their last four matches before limping over the line. They had the tools to compete in the Championship but adjusting to the top flight is an unenviable task for a team immediately dwarfed by the resources of Premier League rivals.

They have had to slog it out in search of reinforcements and should take encouragement from prising Grady Diangana from West Ham but aside from him and Matheus Pereira – both are capable of getting supporters off their seats or, indeed, sofas – they grew a little predictable last season as sides stifled them at one end and exposed them at the other.

Slavan Bilic has been here before and knows West Brom need to improve in both boxes to have any chance of staying up. They became too easy to hurt and goals were suddenly at a premium when promotion hung in the balance. When it came to the crunch on the final day his decision to shake things up in attack paid off, with the loanee Callum Robinson preferred to Hal Robson-Kanu and Charlie Austin as the lone striker in the preferred 4-2-3-1 system.

Robinson hassled and harried and got on the scoresheet after giving chase to anything and everything but his inclusion at the expense of the club’s joint-leading goalscorers in the biggest game of the season was hardly the most glowing indictment of Albion’s attacking options. Austin, who struggled with fitness and form, hit double figures despite starting 18 matches, Robson-Kanu failed to score after the restart and Kenneth Zohore, signed last year, managed three goals in 659 underwhelming minutes.

Interest in the strikers Troy Deeney, Ollie Watkins and Karlan Grant, who played in the top flight for Huddersfield, is understandable but none will come cheap and Watkins has joined Aston Villa for £28m. Given West Brom are willing to spend about £20m in this window, they are keen to ensure a modest budget by Premier League standards stretches to address several areas.

How they finished

They have signed familiar faces in Pereira, who excelled on loan from Sporting Lisbon last season, and Robinson, who was on loan from Sheffield United and has joined in a swap deal involving Oliver Burke, who has not settled since a £15m move three years ago. West Brom are keen for Filip Krovinovic to follow suit in making his temporary stay from Benfica permanent.

West Brom know they cannot have it all. Beefing up a defence that failed to cover itself in glory towards the end of last season was a priority and the arrival of Cédric Kipré, a commanding centre-back from Wigan, supplements Bilic’s options. He chopped and changed without much joy. Ahmed Hegazi – one of three players, with Kieran Gibbs and the captain, Jake Livermore, who remain from the team that started their last Premier League game – is uncompromising and erratic but finding an upgrade proved easier said than done.

The Brighton defender Shane Duffy opted for a move to Celtic and Semi Ajayi, who impressed after joining from Rotherham, is yet to be tested in the top flight. The departures of Chris Brunt, who has joined Bristol City, and Gareth Barry have lowered the average age but they are now light on experience and left-back is a problem area because of Gibbs’s injury troubles.


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