Hi everyone. This is part three of my series of blogs about the status of the Premiership Clubs of the 2014-2015 Season following the conclusion of the League season. In this, the third part of the series, I’ll be focusing on Leicester City and West Bromwich Albion. Of course, all of this is my own opinion, so feel free to disagree and debate!
I think that if you had offered 14th place to a Leicester City fan at the start of the season, they would have been overjoyed with that. Leicester City had not been in the Premier League for some time and, arguably, not much was expected of them under Nigel Pearson, a manager who did not have a huge amount of top-flight experience in the top seat. They started the season with much the same squad that got them promoted but with the addition of Marc Albrighton on a free transfer from Aston Villa, a poor move by Villa considering how poorly their season went. Leo Ulloa also joined for 8 million Pounds from Brighton – he went on to score a number of goals over the course of the season. The key signing though was the former two-time UEFA Champions League-winning midfielder Esteban Cambiasso on a free transfer from Internazionale – a quality defensive midfield addition to any club and a real midfield leader for a club that desperately needed more top-flight experience.
Right from the start of the season, Leicester showed they would not be pushed around. Unfortunately, their style of open and attacking football and a substantial lack of luck meant that they were in the relegation places at Christmas. However, they began a run late in the season and managed to stay up, thanks to some great defensive performances, led by Wes Morgan and the on-loan Robert Huth in the centre of defence and Kasper Schmeichel in goals and a midfield marshalled effectively by Cambiasso, with some creativity from Mahrez, who looked very impressive with his slaloming runs from midfield with the ball at his feet. Leicester managed to secure their survival before the final day, partially due to the poor form of Newcastle, Sunderland and Aston Villa.
If Leicester were able to repeat this season’s achievements in the upcoming season, I don’t think any of their fans would be unhappy with 14th place at the close of that campaign. It is a desperately difficult job for a club coming up from the Championship to stay in the Premier League for any length of time, even if they are well-funded – just ask Hull City or Q.P.R. fans! However, Leicester will need to put together a squad with greater depth. Their most disappointing player of the season must be Paul Konchesky – a vastly experienced full-back at Premiership level after spells with Charlton, Fulham and Liverpool, he performed poorly in most matches, with his age possibly having a factor in this and was largely outperformed by the young Jeffrey Schlupp. Leicester’s best player, for me, was probably a tie between Cambiasso, Ulloa and Mahrez, all of whom impressed multiple times over the course of the season.
For Leicester to progress, I think they need another goalkeeper to compete with Schmeichel, at least 2 centre-backs (former Gunner Matthew Upson has already been released), another quality defensive midfielder (nothing wrong with Drinkwater’s work rate, just maybe not quality enough for the Premier League) and perhaps another striker – Jamie Vardy also lacks sufficient top-flight quality for me. Pearson does, however, have a chairman who will spend in the summer to reinforce, which can be a good thing for Leicester.
Arsenal Loanee? – As I mentioned above with Huth and Upson not at Leicester next term, Pearson will be looking for new cover in the centre of his defence. Leicester do play attacking football on the deck and have huge potential in Isaac Hayden, badly in need of football after a season entirely disrupted by injury. A season in which the young Gun hoped to push for first team football at the Emirates. An additional advantage for the Foxes is that Hayden can also play comfortably at the base of the midfield.
With the arrival of Gabriel, Hayden will find his early season opportunities limited to the League Cup and if he impresses on pre-season as he did in the summer of 2014 I am certain Wenger will be looking for a loan out. Leicester City under Pearson certainly makes for a more attractive home then our next destination under Pulis.
West Bromwich Albion
Tony Pulis came in to West Bromwich Albion’s managerial seat after the dismissal of Alan Irvine just after Christmas. Irvine was installed only shortly before the start of the 2014-15 Premier League season, replacing the outgoing Spaniard Pepe Mel, who had in turn replaced Steve Clarke (currently at Reading, who started the 2013-14 season at WBA), who had replaced Roy Hodgson, himself only appointed in February 2011 – that’s not even including caretakers, which makes for a list of 5 permanent managers in a little over 4 seasons!
It’s been a few years on the merry-go-round for West Brom and their supporters. The one constant has been their chairman, Jeremy Peace, who has a philosophy of keeping a tight rein on the budget and maximising player transfer values, while keeping wage costs down. Possibly to this end, a number of their more well-known players have left the club following a rollercoaster of a season, including Youssef Mulumbu, Northern Ireland International Chris Baird and Garath McAuley, players who, with their wealth of Premier League experience, will be difficult to replace. Tony Pulis left Crystal Palace right before the start of last season, with some rumours that he was not happy with the transfer and wages budget provided by the Eagles – unfortunately, in my opinion, he has stepped into a similar situation with an equally bullish chairman in Peace.
West Brom had a dearth of poor results before Christmas, due to the lack of form from some players and Irvine playing a system which didn’t seem to suit the players he had. Arguably the two most disappointing players for West Brom this past season were Brown Ideye and Victor Anichebe, both of which were quite poor upfront, only showing form in brief glimpses, scoring just 7 goals between them in the Premier League. The Baggies’ best player of the season was probably Saido Berahino, due to his 14 league goals. James Morrison was dogged as always in midfield and Ben Foster and Boaz Myhill both played well in goal on multiple occasions. When Tony Pulis arrived, he moved to sign Darren Fletcher from Manchester United, whose leadership in midfield helped to turn results around and West Brom would have finished the season much lower in the table if Fletcher had not been signed.
For West Brom to move forward in the upcoming season, they need to find at least 2 centre-backs, a new creative midfield player and at least one striker to replace Ideye and Anichebe, neither of whom I can see staying with the Baggies into next season. Other possible signings may be 2 new full-backs. The other key will be for the chairman and the manager to work together to achieve the aim of finishing as high as possible in the Premier League, something that Peace has not been able to do with regularity with previous managers. With Pulis’ defensive nous and some good signings, the Baggies could finish 9th next season.
I hope you enjoyed reading my blog. Agree? Disagree? Post a comment and let me know
The first time I saw Dennis Bergkamp play was in 1996 – I started following Arsenal properly in 1998 after the World Cup. When Arsenal then signed Thierry Henry – a player I had seen in that World Cup win by France – as well as already having Vieira and Petit there, plus several English stars like Tony Adams, Martin Keown and David Seaman just cemented Arsenal as the club for me. There was very little football coverage in South Africa during the 1990s as rugby was (and still is) the dominant sport here.
I was not really ushered in any specific direction in terms of which club to support – I chose Arsenal myself. It’s only over the last 3 years that I have been able to watch matches regularly – we get excellent TV coverage of European football now and I try to watch all Arsenal matches live.