Need to know: West Bromwich Albion
MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Five things to know about West Bromwich Albion going into the 2013-14 English Premier League season:
Just when the Premier League thought it had seen the last of Nicolas Anelka, up he pops at West Brom. The former France striker’s whistle-stop tour of English top-flight clubs has taken him to the Hawthorns, joining on a free transfer in July after ending his miserable stint at Chinese side Shanghai Shenhua — part of which he spent on loan at Juventus in the second half of last season. Anelka is 34 and in the twilight of his career, but he has shown during pre-season that he still retains the goal-scoring touch he showed at Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City, Bolton and Chelsea. His goal against Bologna on Saturday took him to seven in seven friendlies and he could be one of the shrewdest purchases of the season.
WHO’LL STEP UP TO REPLACE LUKAKU?
It’s a good job Anelka is in good form in front of goal because West Brom has lost its top scorer — and arguably best player — from last season, Romelu Lukaku. The Belgium striker has returned to Chelsea after a season-long loan spell with West Brom where he netted 17 league goals, including three as a second-half substitute in the final-weekend 5-5 draw against Manchester United. Aside from Anelka, West Brom manager Steve Clarke has Shane Long, Markus Rosenberg, Peter Odemwingie and newly signed loan recruit Matej Vydra so he isn’t short of options up front. All are established internationals — not a bad forward line for a mid-table club.
THE ODEMWINGIE DILEMMA
The Nigeria striker has been trying to leave West Brom since January, but he looks like starting the new season at the club — albeit with little chance of getting any first-team action. In one of the most bizarre incidents of last season, Odemwingie drove from the Hawthorns to Queens Park Rangers on transfer deadline day in January in a bid to force through a move. He was filmed parked up near the gates, denied access to QPR’s ground after West Brom refused to negotiate. Weeks earlier, he had already gone on Twitter to voice his unhappiness. He played a bit-part role until the end of the season and has been linked with a move away this summer, with QPR and Dubai side Al Nasr showing an interest. Odemwingie is a proven goalscorer, though. Should he and Clarke kiss and make up, he can still be a real asset.
CLARKE COMES INTO HIS OWN AS A MANAGER
Steve Clarke has always been thought of as a managerial No. 2, assisting big names such as Jose Mourinho at Chelsea, Kenny Dalglish at Liverpool and Ruud Gullit at Newcastle. Many, therefore, wondered how he would get on after deciding to go it alone at West Brom — replacing Roy Hodgson following his appointment as England manager. Well, so far so good. In his first season in charge, the team placed 8th — its highest ever finish in the Premier League. A gritty Scot in the mold of Alex Ferguson and David Moyes, Clarke has respect from his peers and something about him that suggests he could go far as a manager in his own right. It’s a big second season in charge as he looks to prove last year was no one-off.
LUGANO LOOKS TO SHORE UP DEFENSE
West Brom had the leakiest defense among the teams who finished in the top half of the standings last season, perhaps explaining why Clarke signed Uruguay captain Diego Lugano less than two weeks before the start of the season. The lion-hearted center back remains a regular for his country — he played and scored in this summer’s Confederations Cup — but hasn’t had the best of times in his club career since joining Paris Saint-Germain in 2011. He featured fleetingly at the French club, so much so that he was loaned out to Malaga for the second half of last season. His strength, experience and reading of the game are his best qualities and he is likely to replace Gareth McAuley, becoming Sweden center back Jonas Olsson’s partner for the new campaign.