Championship preview: Is immediate promotion in the bag for West Brom?
Well, it was inevitable, wasn't it? West Bromwich Albion finally met their Premier League end after a seven-season stint in English football's top flight. The Baggies' extremely slow start eventually caught up with them; despite fighting for their life pretty much every weekend for about a month, before finally succumbing to relegation.
Changes aplenty have been made personnel-wise. Transitioning from one division to another is never smooth. However, West Brom have remained unbeaten in pre-season as they gear up to attempt to return at the first time of asking. Fifteen goals have been scored in their five friendly fixtures, winning four and securing one draw. If they're nervous about trying to get out of the notoriously tough Championship, they're certainly not showing it.
After going through four managers in the last twelve months, West Brom finally settled on Darren Moore; the man who steadied the ship after a turgid campaign. The players enjoy working under him, the fans adore the 44-year-old and by all accounts, he seems to have a splendid working relationship with the board; which is increasingly important in the modern-day game.
An attack-minded manager, who was already beginning to get the maximum from his team will get time to continue to embed in his ideologies and thoughts. He better work quickly though, because although you can't win the division in the first month or two, you can certainly lose it...
As is always the case with teams going down, you're going to lose players. Jonny Evans switched one Midlands club for another, as he headed to Leicester City in a permanent switch, whereas James McLean sealed a deal that'll see him move to Stoke City. Veteran players Claudio Yacob and Gareth McAuley have also departed. Both are without new clubs at this point.
That hasn't curbed West Brom's spending, though. They've added the excellent goalkeeper Sam Johnstone from Manchester United, who's already proven his worth at this level. The shot-stopper won't come cheaply, with the fee potentially rising to £10million. The man between the sticks has already proven his worth at Championship level, after an excellent season on loan at Aston Villa. Their other high-profile addition is Kyle Bartley, a centre-half from Swansea City, he's joined in a £4million deal. Aside from that, they've added left-back Connor Townsend from Scunthorpe United, while also acquiring goalkeeper Jonathan Bond on a free transfer.
West Brom have an excellent spine, starting with the aforementioned Johnstone. Moving onto the back line, Moore can rely upon the underrated Craig Dawson alongside Egyptian Ahmed Hegazi. There is also ex-Arsenal man Kieran Gibbs, who is looking to kick-start his career.
Onto the midfield, you have the experienced Jake Livermore, veteran Gareth Barry and World Cup semi-finalist Nacer Chadli. That's a trio better than some Premier League sides can boast. In the striker position, they're equally stacked. Salomon Rondon will continue to be first-choice. Jay Rodriguez is still around, but I'm not sure how long that'll remain to be the case...
Although West Brom's squad is one largely made up of veterans and experienced footballers, it's going to be a big year for Sam Field. With 20 first-team appearances under his belt, while also representing his country at U20 level, the midfielder will be hoping for regular football. It's a real chance for the young man to stamp his authority on the team, particularly after being demoted back to the U23 setup at times over the last twelve months.
West Brom should be pushing for the title. Stoke City will undoubtedly be their main rivals, but a top-two finish would secure their Premier League place for 2019/20. They have to be in play-off contention as a minimum, failing to do so will likely cost Moore his job. No pressure then, eh Darren?