West Brom | Trending Towards The Drop

West Brom | Trending Towards The Drop

Through the first seven matches of last season West Bromwich Albion had experienced the highs and lows of English Premier League football.  After losing 6-0 to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge WBA would quickly right the ship, beating Sunderland in their next fixture as they went to record wins over Birmingham and Arsenal.  They would also salvage points in 1-1 draws at home to Tottenham and Bolton.

Their record after seven fixtures was 2-2-3, with 9 goals scored and 12 goals allowed – but just six in six matches following the opener against Chelsea.  This season has not been as kind to West Brom and they currently sit just above the relegation zone on goal difference over Wigan.  Their record of 1-2-4 leaves them on pace for just 27 points and a certain relegation. The good news for Baggies supporters is that last season they were able to out perform their pace from the first seven, having been on pace for just 44 points, they instead earned 47, good for 11th place in the table.

While seven matches may seem an inadequate number to raise the alarm, there is a mixture of good news and bad when we contrast the team’s statistics for the seven matches so far this season with the statistics from a year ago.  WBA are close their their levels of a year ago in several aspects of all three phases of the game.  However, there are notable differences that, if not remedied, will prove to be the Baggies undoing this season and end their run in England’s top flight.  This season has seen Ben Foster playing in goal instead of the combination of Scott Carson and Boaz Myhill:

On the surface it looks like WBA are in good hands with their new ‘keeper and perhaps playing better defence in front of Foster’s goal as the club have allowed nearly a half-goal fewer per match this season.  Over the course of the entire season, as we can see above, this will be 17 fewer goals.  We may think that Foster is simply getting lucky so let’s compare his statistics to Carson, Myhill and their combined stats from a year ago.

It is clear that Foster is playing better football than was played last season.  While his saves are only slightly higher than last season’s duo, he is playing the ball out of the air with greater frequency, claiming an extra cross every other match.  Over the course of the season little improvements on last season’s statistics will provide large gains for the Baggies.  Clearly the 71 goals allowed last season were an issue and one management wanted to address through the addition of Foster.  However, the club is in actuality playing slightly worse in defense.

We’ve used the 0-3 loss against Swansea City in the Chalkboard above to illustrate the poor defensive play.  In this chalkboard we can see that the Baggies were successful in just over 50% of their attempted tackles.  This played out nearly evenly across the field as they were successful on 14 attempts in the defensive half while failing in 11 attempts.  In contrast to the 56% success rate WBA had in their defensive half that match, for the season they’ve been successful in 70% of all tackles. That still represents more than a 3% decline from a year ago. In fact, looking at the above chart, we can see that the club is winning fewer tackles, fewer combined 50/50’s (ground and aerial) and making fewer interceptions per game. They have also been dribbled past more frequently and are giving the ball away far more frequently.  It may be that last stat which is the most disturbing as their inability to hold possession contributes to problems in all three phases of the game. The loss of possession increasing from every eight minutes to every six minutes results in an increase from 11.25/90′ to 15/90′.

The midfield has actually been very solid.  While they have missed Chris Brunt through injury (Brunt has of course only played the full 90′ in four of seven EPL fixtures this season) his presence in the line-up hasn’t translated to points with the Baggies taking just two points from a possible 12 in matches where he has played 90′. Two of those matches were the opening two fixtures against Manchester United and Chelsea and gaffer Hodgson will be hoping a return to fitness as the Baggies chase six points in the bank against mid table opposition before WBA face Liverpool and Arsenal back-to-back.  The attack has also remained largely similar to last seasons, with the squads overall performance presented in the graphic at right illustrating that they’re continuing to push the ball to the right four times as frequently as to the left.  The most successful attacks in the EPL are balanced, or close to it, and without making a drastic shift in their attacking philosophy this season’s attacking struggles may not be remedied.

While the passing numbers between the two seasons continue to resemble one another, the combination of loss of possession and longer gap between chances created has resulted in fewer scoring opportunities, which is reflected all to clearly on the score sheet and in the league table.

The five goals through seven games leaves WBA on pace for just 27 goals on the season.  While the team is on pace to allow 17 fewer goals, the 27  goals would represent a decrease of 29 over last seasons 56.  While it is easy to scoff at a figure of 27 and state that there is clearly going to be a significant increase over the remaining 31 matches, you could raise the figure of 27 to the 37 that Birmingham City scored last season. (Author’s Note: The database mistakenly credits WBA with 6 goals while the club have actually scored 5 in their first seven EPL fixtures. Steven Reid did score an o.g. against Manchester United which accounts for the discrepancy).  Birmingham’s 2010-11 season ended with goals scored 37, allowed 58, and is unfortunately similar to the pace that the Baggies are currently on.  Either Odemwingie will need to recreate his form of a year ago or Odemwingie will need to develop a rapport with new arrival Shane Long.  The near future will present West Brom with the porous Wolves defense (10 goals allowed in 7 matches) to get healthy but they then play Aston Villa (5 in 7) and Liverpool (8 in 7 and getting healthy with Glen Johnson returning from injury).  Baggies supporters can remain optimistic by examining Wolves 2009-10 season where Wolverhampton scored just 32 goals, allowed 56 and won only nine games en route to 38 points.  That season they finished 15th as Burnley, Hull City and Portsmouth all earned 30 or fewer points and were relegated.  However, if the trends evident here continue, this will be a long struggle to avoid relegation.