The 2014/15 season was a tale of two halves for West Bromwich Albion. The Midlands club struggled under Alan Irvine for the first half of the season, with the club in 16th place when the Scotsman was relieved of his duties. The Premier League’s trademark team saver, Tony Pulis was brought in to steady the ship, an act he completed with aplomb.
Pulis made the Baggies a classic, Pulis side, defending well and embracing the use of set pieces to score a lot of their goals. They were buoyed by the emergence of Saido Berahino, the Burundi born striker was a breath of fresh air in a side that struggled for goals. Now coveted by bigger teams, it remains to be seen what colours he will wear at the end of the transfer window.
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Early fixtures outlook: vs Manchester City, @Watford, vs Chelsea, @ Stoke, vs Southampton, @ Aston Villa
The Baggies have been historically a good home side, that will be tested in the opening weeks of the season, with the Premier League top 2 paying the Hawthorns a visit. The away fixtures look to be kinder to the “Pride of the Midlands”, with opportunities for their players to start producing for fantasy owners.
Oh, what it is to be a fantasy writer. At the time of writing, the Baggies are in negotiations with Cardiff City over the transfer of the Scottish international, David Marshall. This would give them, three, starting calibre Goalkeeper’s with Marshall joining Ben Foster & Boaz Myhill. The starting job for West Brom isn’t a glamorous one, but it is however a productive one for fantasy owners. If you were to combine Foster & Myhill’s fantasy production in 2014/15, you would have had the number one Goalkeeper in fantasy.
I realise this isn’t useful for you as a reader, trying to decipher who it is you should pick. If Marshall is to sign, he will be the one to go for. Foster isn’t due back from his ACL injury until November at the earliest and all signs point to Myhill being a reliable number two. As long as Marshall doesn’t drop the ball with his opportunity, the job should be his for the long term.
Stud: Joleon Lescott 5.0m
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A free transfer signing from Manchester City before last season, Lescott proved to be invaluable in his first season in blue and white stripes. The former £24 million pound man added a veteran steel to an Albion side that had shipped far too many goals in 2013/14. In his 34 starts, the Baggies defence kept 15 clean sheets. Lescott figures to be an every week starter in 15/16, most likely alongside James Chester in central defence, on the off chance he’s forced out by Gareth Mcauley, Pulis has used Lescott as a left back on occasion.
Sleeper: Craig Dawson 5.0m
Craig Dawson has taken his time to develop into a full time player for West Brom, with last season being the first in which he’s started over ten games for the Baggies. Dawson is a centre back by nature, but spent most of his time under Pulis, filling in at right back. He played 14 games from that spot in 14/15 and will open 15/16 as the starter, with very little competition in the Albion squad. Dawson will continue to be a goal threat in 15/16, he was unlucky to not have a bigger tally than two last season as he was a constant threat on set pieces.
The other two options that fantasy owners should consider in 15/16 are Gareth Mcauley & James Chester. They are priced exactly the same as Lescott and Dawson, if they are to find their way into the starting lineup, they are viable options for your fantasy team. Lescott & Dawson just possess more upside.
Stud: Craig Gardner 5.5m
Gardner started 30 games for the Albion last season, bagging three goals and registering four assists. Not mind blowing stats by any means, but Gardner narrowly missed out on adding to that goal scoring tally. Combine this solid production with the propensity for Pulis teams to rack up clean sheet numbers and you’ll see that Gardner is a reliable option for a bargain basement price. He figures to be an ever present in the West Brom starting lineup, in part due to his impressive versatility. Able to play in central midfield and both wings, there will always be a way for Gardner to find himself gaining valuable minutes.
Sleeper: Callum McManaman 5.0m
The one thing that Tony Pulis noticed when he joined the Baggies, was a total lack of pace and width. McManaman was brought in from Wigan in the January transfer window and despite an injury hit start to life at the Hawthorns, he looks poised for a breakout season. Albion are still lacking in genuine width and McManaman will be an every week starter in a system predicated by the success of it’s wide men. It is a recipe for fantasy success, particularly if you play in a league that rewards you for chance creation as well as assists.
Chris Brunt has been a fantasy gem for many owners over the years, it however looks like the club captain will start the season off as West Brom’s primary left back, a position he made his own under Pulis. If Brunt were to be classified as a left back, he’d shoot straight near the top of my defender rankings, as a midfielder however, this means I won’t be considering him for my team.
James McClean & James Morrison are the other two options that fantasy players may consider, both priced at 5.0m. McClean showed promise in his spell at Sunderland but his star has dwindled in the Championship with Wigan, it remains to be seen if he can recapture the form he showed for the Black Cats. Morrison is a safe, dependable option that can come up with a goal in a pinch for your team, he is however one of those players who you will always be looking to upgrade from.
Stud: Saido Berahino 6.5m
The revelation of the season for West Brom in 14/15, Saido Berahino scored 14 goals in his first season as a full time starter for the Baggies. At the time of writing, Berahino is linked with moves to Manchester City, Tottenham & Newcastle, if he is to move to City or Spurs he is a likely backup. The best outcome for fantasy owners would be for the Burundi born forward to stay at West Brom, where he will be an every week starter and penalty taker. 10 league goals should be the floor for Berahino this season, as the young striker will improve as he is exposed to more first team football. The young star should also generate more assists as he will be playing with a competent partner for the first time in his career in the form of Ricky Lambert.
Sleeper: Ricky Lambert 6.0m
Speaking of Lambert, the England international joins West Brom after a disappointing season at his boyhood club, Liverpool. Lambert should fit into the Albion side seamlessly, offering them something that Pulis craves in his sides, a goal scoring big man. It would be a surprise to me if Lambert finishes the season with less than 10 goals and 5 assists. It is often overlooked just how useful he is in build up play, in his two seasons at Southampton, he registered 8 & 11 assists.
Predicted Opening Day Line-up:
GK: Boaz Myhill
Def: Chris Brunt
Def: Joleon Lescott
Def: James Chester
Def: Craig Dawson
Mid: James McClean
Mid: Craig Gardner
Mid: Darren Fletcher
Mid: Callum McManaman
FW: Saido Berahino
FW: Ricky Lambert