O.M.I. was very disappointed by this turn of events, but, as it turned out, Hodgson came to the club at the right time. The West Brom players seemed to respond to Hodgson’s measured style of play, in a way which we never saw from the Liverpool players. Hodgson was back at a smaller, more modest club, and it seems to be a role he’s most suited for. The Baggies’ great escape was familiar to any Premier league watcher: Fulham under Hodgson performed almost the exact same feat in 2008. After twelve games in charge at The Hawthorns, Hodgson’s Albion had taken twenty points to climb from 17th to 11th place, their highest finish since 1982-83 and the days of Cyrille Regis and Laurie Cunningham.
In the past, Hodgson has proven to be effective at plugging leaky defences and reaping dividends from limited resources. If the players keep listening to him, expect Premier League consolidation.
Under Tony Mowbray and Roberto Di Matteo, the primary tactical emphasis was on attack, and the defence was left to its own devices in attempting to prevent top flight strikers from scoring. The results were as you would expect. Roy Hodgson’s tactics are all about maintaining shape, achieved by relentless drilling and practices which include players tied together with ropes to ensure that tactical moves are made as a single unit.
West Brom nominally line up in a 4-4-2 formation, but the midfield flexibility in both tactics and personnel make them difficult to match up. In the midfield, the creativity of James Morrison, Chris Brunt and Somen Tchoyi is well-balanced with the stability of Youssuf Mulumbu and Paul Scharner. Odemwingie will often be partnered up front with Shane Long, who scored 23 goals for Reading in the Championship last season. The dynamic Cameroonian Somen Tchoyi is an exciting man to watch, but you have to wonder about how much freedom he will be given. The abundance of attacking midfield options, supplemented by the return of Zoltan Gera from Fulham and the Graham Dorrans’ eventual recovery from injury, mean that 4-5-1, 4-4-1-1 or even 4-2-3-1 can all be utilised, as needed.
For all of Odemwingie’s visibility, the captain Chris Brunt is Albion’s key player and Hodgson utilises him on the right to cut inside and shoot or pass off Brunt’s favoured left foot. With Jerome Thomas or Gera on the opposite touchline, this inside-out width should create space for the mobile Long and Odemwingie to run in to. So far, goals have been at a premium for the Baggies, but not all Premier League clubs feature defences as stingy as those at Man U., Chelsea, or Stoke.
Sending the erratic Scott Carson to Turkey and replacing him (with a season-long loan from Birmingham City) with Ben Foster is seen as a great improvement. Foster is quite agile, but is prone to poor decision-making; he is still young for a ’keeper so he should improve. Marton Fulop is an adequate deputy.
In front of Foster, Steven Reid, Jonas Olsson, and Nicky Shorey will probably be three of the four first-choice defenders, with Gonzalo Jara, Pablo Ibañez and new boys Gareth McAuley and Billy Jones being added to the mix as needed (and when they learn Hodgson’s system). Rugged Gareth McAuley complements Jonas Olsson well and the pair may end up as Hodgson’s first choice. Young Craig Dawson may finally get his chance in the middle after impressing on loan at Rochdale last season, his effectiveness in scoring on set pieces (19 goals in two seasons), coupled with his positioning, should make him a Premier League starter relatively soon.
Keys to the season
A moderate strengthening of the squad is encouraging; West Brom have retained their best players, with Odemwingie, Brunt, Youssuf Mulumbu, Paul Scharner and James Morrison all staying (so far), and Shane Long, Ben Foster and Zoltan Gera have been added.
Foster is an improvement on Scott Carson, but the defence let in 71 goals last term, prompting the signing of Hodgson. Roy’s first priority will be tightening the back.
Significant Ins & Outs
In: Shane Long (Reading £6.5m), Marton Fulop (Ipswich, free), Ben Foster (Birmingham, loan), Zoltan Gera (Fulham, free)
Out: Scott Carson (Bursaspor, £2.1m), Ishmael Miller (Nottingham Forest £1.2m), Borja Valero (Villarreal, undisclosed), Marek Cech (Trabzonspor, undisclosed), Abdoulaye Meite (Dijon, free), Gianni Zuiverloon (Real Mallorca, free), Giles Barnes (Doncaster, free), Dean Kiely (retired), Boaz Myhill (Birmingham, loan), Chris Wood (Birmingham, loan)
Chris Brunt. The Baggies’ most talented player, he is the main cog in the sturdy and creative midfield machine. Peter Odemwingie’s goals were the most visible result from Brunt’s steady service; Brunt had 11 assists in 2010/11. His fitness and attitude aren’t always as consistent as his crosses, though.
Opening fixtures and results
Man Utd (1-2), @Chelsea (1-2), Stoke (0-1), @Norwich (Sept. 11), @Swansea (Sept. 17), Fulham (Sept. 24)
West Brom have taken no points from their opening games, which isn’t a surprise, but Hodgson should expect a much better September. The matches at Norwich and Swansea will be an indicator of the Baggies’ season.
Where will they finish?
11th. West Brom may be one of the most unpredictable teams this year. With some momentum built up mid-season, they might even challenge for the top half of the table. However, if they suffer some injuries to key players, they will possibly struggle.