Steve Clarke Has West Bromwich Albion Looking Dangerous This Season
Under Roy Hodgson's guidance last season, West Bromwich Albion were well-drilled, well-organized and unflinching.
Their 4-4-2 formation never deviated, and by season's end the rigorous discipline had earned the considerable dividend of a 10th-place finish in the league standings.
Albion netted 45 times in league play, conceded 52 and still managed to win 13 games. It was a true testament to the results that can come through Hodgson when a team buys into his steely mentality.
Given Albion's first performance under their new boss—a 3-0 waxing of that Liverpool side that finished two spots above them in the league standings last season—fans have every right to consider a charge toward a top-eight finish a very feasible possibility.
The win marked the first time the side, in the top flight for three years running now, had ever won its EPL opener.
“I spent all week telling the players to believe in themselves and be confident coming into this game because they had no reason not to be," Clarke told the club's official site.
The new manager wants his team to play attractive football, and his team formation to start Saturday's match—a 4-2-1-3 formation with plucky Irish striker Shane Long up top, and the midfield anchored by Youssouf Mulumbu (both of whom were fantastic against the Reds)—showed certain vestigial imprints of Hodgson's tenure, while integrating some sublime passing movements Clarke is sure to have worked on this preseason.
Mulumbu was terrific in a holding midfield role, and while Albion were subjugated to an attacking deluge from Liverpool in the first half—Luis Suarez ran riot for the first 45 minutes—they never broke.
And thanks to Zoltan Gera, the Hungarian midfielder in his second spell at the club after joining last season, they were up 1-0 in the 43rd minute.
Gera made just three appearances under Hodgson last season when a gruesome knee injury suffered in November cut short his campaign.
So when Gera collected a Liverpool clearance off a corner and unleashed a searing right-footed half volley into the top corner of Pepe Reina's net, it was a moment of quality that had been a long time coming for Baggies fans.
"The Hawthorns is special for me and to score here after the disappointment of last season was really something," Gera told the official site.
While it took Daniel Agger's red card in the 59th minute for Albion to truly put themselves in control of the match, once they'd seized the reins they never let Liverpool off the hook.
After adding two more goals, Albion began stroking the ball around with supreme confidence, showing a ruthless quality that will surely keep them in good stead this season.
Chelsea loanee Romelu Lukaku was excellent in his substitute's role, and told the official site that "the most important thing about today was the three points, but the way we passed the ball and the way we defended was perfect."
A tricky fixture next Saturday at White Hart Lane looms large, and with Tottenham sure to be looking for a win after dropping their opener at Newcastle, Albion will need to be at their best.
But if they continue to employ the formula shown on Saturday at the Hawthorns—a mixture of resilience with some terrific attacking flair—a positive result might not be too far out of the realm of possibility.
Sort of like their current third-place standing in the league table.
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