We spoke with West Bromwich Albion blogger and season ticket holder Matthew Evans ahead of Everton's game with the Baggies at Goodison Park this weekend. You can read more of his work on the West Brom blog over at ESPN FC.
RBM - How was the offseason for West Brom? Who has come in, and who has left the club?
ME - It started off slowly and cheaply, with things starting to pick up now although the club is still yet to spend a fee on a permanent deal, Romelu Lukaku was the only real significant name to leave the club, with Peter Odemwingie still in blue and white stripes for the moment. Goran Popov signed on loan for another season, with Matej Vydra also joining on loan and Diego Lugano signed on a free from PSG. The two biggest name signings for Albion have been Scott Sinclair on loan, a deal that was completed today and Nicolas Anelka on a free, who has been in the news himself today.
Contrary to reports on Sky, he hasn’t retired but has been granted compassionate leave after the death of one of his agents. The reports from the very reliable local press suggest there is a doubt over Anelka’s immediate future at the club, with the death hitting him very had.
RBM - Who did West Brom play for their pre-season friendlies? How did they do in those matches?
ME - Albion played a lot of foreign sides of a similar standing to ourselves, the biggest name friendlies being Hannover who we played in Austria and Bologna in Albion’s final pre-season game. They went fairly well, with Albion only losing 2 matches albeit one of those to Hannover. Anelka scored 7 goals in 7 games, including 1 in a 2-0 win over Bologna at the Hawthorns.
RBM - Steve Clarke has completed one full season at The Hawthorns. What are your thoughts about his performance?
ME - I was delighted with how his first season went, as I’m sure he was. However, the 2nd half of the season saw Albion drop off alarmingly, at some points that was down to poor tactics from Clarke although lack of financial support in January was also a factor. He made a big tactical mistake against Southampton in last week’s season opener, but overall, I don’t think he could have done a lot more with our resources.
RBM - The Baggies had a pretty good first half of the season and finished an impressive 8th place. What are your realistic expectations for this year? How about in the Cups?
ME - Because of our reluctance to spend to strengthen our squad, and the absence of a future world class player in Lukaku, I think Albion will drop out of the top half but shouldn’t be troubled by relegation. I’d expect around 12th place, which will hopefully enable Albion to target one of the cups. I think the Carling Cup is perhaps a more likely route of success than the FA Cup.
RBM - Losing at home on opening day is never a good thing. What do you see Clarke doing differently, especially away to Everton on Saturday?
ME - With no Anelka, I think Clarke will go to one up front and 5 in midfield. Shane Long will probably be the lone front-man, Scott Sinclair could make his debut in a wide role and I think skipper Chris Brunt should come back into the side for Graham Dorrans, with James Morrison going to the central position he was so successful in last season.
RBM - Finally, both matches between the two sides were pretty even last year. How do you see this weekend's game going? Who do you tip to shine for either side?
ME - I can’t look past an Everton win, though I’m hoping for a much better performance from Albion than last week. I really like Kevin Mirallas and he should cause our full backs problems, Seamus Coleman is also a good player who impressed me on loan at Blackpool. For us, Youssuff Mulumbu will drive us forward from central midfield whilst Gareth McAuley can always be relied upon for a solid performance.
Thank you Matthew for speaking with us. We should have a cracker of a game on Saturday, the Goodison crowd will want to give the new gaffer a warm welcome and make things harder for the visiting Baggies. If you have additional questions for Matthew, leave a comment, and he'll be glad to give us a follow-up.
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