Things have gone pretty well for the newly promoted clubs thus far in the season. I’ve spoken about Blackpool’s nice run of form thus far previously (though based on recent results it would appear as though I may have jinxed them.) Newscastle have also performed admirably for the most part, with their 6-0 defeat of Aston Villa one of the more unlikely results we’ve seen so far this year.
Both clubs sit comfortably in the middle of the table at the moment, and while it’s still early days and plenty could (and probably will) change in the coming months, neither have buried themselves in such an unfavorable position as to make a relegation battle a foregone conclusion. It’s a position most newly promoted clubs would be quite happy to find themselves in about a quarter of the way through the year.
West Bromwich Albion have taken things a step further. After opening the year with an inauspicious 6-0 thrashing at Stamford Bridge, the Baggies have seen their quality steadily improve. A 1-0 win against Sunderland was followed by a 1-0 loss to Liverpool at Anfield and West Brom fought the Reds until the very end with a Fernando Torres strike in the 65th minute being all that separated the two sides. That was the last time the team dropped a point, with draws against Spurs and Manchester United and a defeat over Arsenal standing out in that stretch. In their four meetings with England’s Champions League clubs, West Brom have taken eight of the twelve available points. That’s a mark almost any club in the Premier League would be thrilled with. In terms of non-league play, the Baggies knocked Manchester City out of the Carling Cup in a thrill 2-1 victory at the Hawthorns.
At the moment West Brom sit sixth in the table, even with Spurs on points but behind on goal difference. There’s a case to be made that they are the most on-form team in the Premier League at the moment. Through one of the most difficult parts of their schedule the Baggies are ahead of (amongst others) Liverpool, Aston Villa, Everton and Fulham. Roberto DiMatteo’s club have been playing out of their heads, and though it’s tough to see them finishing the year in the European places it’s equally difficult picturing the kind of collapse that would be required for them to finish towards the bottom of the league. West Brom haven’t fluked into these results; they were the better side against Arsenal and though they benefited from some luck against Manchester United their ability to come from two goals down to earn the draw at Old Trafford speaks as much to their mettle as it does to their ability.
West Brom have gotten to this point playing the flowing, attacking style preferred by DiMatteo. There’s risk in that, especially when a club has defensive deficiencies to deal with, as the 6-0 defeat to Chelsea showed. But the elite clubs are going to get their goals more often than not, and the philosophy for West Brom has been to push back rather than to play conservatively and attempt to grind out the result. To this point, it’s worked for them. It clearly rattled Arsenal in the contest between the two sides at Emirates, with the Baggies going ahead 3-0 by the 73rd minute and a late flurry from the Gunners not enough to pull themselves out of the hole. Other clubs haven’t expected to face the style of play West Brom employ, and the combination of the surprise factor and execution have been enough to allow them to pull out some unexpected results. On terms of quality alone the club are most likely better than was though coming into the season, and DiMatteo has been able to get more from their talent than might be expected. But while the quality in the squad and in tactics are likely to remain, the element of surprise is likely to disappear soon enough, especially against higher-level competition. Will their early season start be enough to keep them in the top of the table throughout?
We obviously can’t know for sure. But it’s important to note that West Brom have raced to this start against one of the most difficult stretches of opposition they will see all year. From now through December their most difficult opponent looks to be Manchester City, and that game will take place at the Hawthorns. The rest of the season is a similar story; no real gauntlets or months-of-death to contend with at the risk of a run of poor results turning into an extended run of poor form. There will be tougher stretches than others and it is of course impossible to predict that far out, but at the moment West Brom and their supporters must like their chances. They took care of business against a brutal schedule early in the year and they’re well set up ride their early success to a more than respectable finish. Much could change, but this is beginning to look than a big for the Baggies. They’ve been quite the yo-yo club for most of their recent history; could this be the year they begin to establish themselves as Premier League regulars? A lot of that will depend on how they finish and how long Roberto DiMatteo sticks around. But if that’s the goal, they’re off to a pretty excellent start.