West Bromwich Albion’s single season back in the Premier League ended in relegation after losing 3-1 to Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.
Manager Sam Allardyce has overseen many impressive escapes in his time in the Premier League at Bolton, Blackburn, Sunderland and Crystal Palace. Following his appointment in December, he said he was “proud” of never being relegated from the Premier League, but this West Brom side never looked comfortable for most of the season and were always a bookmaker’s favourite to go down.
The controversial sacking of Slaven Bilic relatively early into the season ultimately proved a death knell for this Albion team. The side that won promotion from the Championship in 2019/20 saw little in the way of improvements over the summer transfer window and often looked like a second division outfit against top tier opposition this campaign.
With 68 goals conceded in the 35 games before their relegation was confirmed, the Baggies held the worst defensive record in the division. Were it not for Sam Johnstone in goal, that record could have been far worse. The 28-year-old, included in Gareth Southgate’s England squad for the World Cup qualifiers in March, has impressed this season despite being under intense attacking pressure week in and week out.
Matheus Pereira has been the other shining light in a season devoid of star performances at the Hawthorns. A unanimous selection for Team of the Season in their promotion campaign, Pereira has been electric again in the Premier League to the tune of ten goals and five assists in his first 31 games from attacking midfield. Doubly impressive owing to the lack of dangerous weapons around him, Pereira is one West Brom player who could play Premier League football next season. At 25 years old, the Brazilian oozes creative quality in midfield and would be an excellent pickup for a Premier League team chasing European football.
Pereira pulled the strings in West Brom’s only occasion defying the Premier League score predictions this campaign, dealing Thomas Tuchel with his first defeat as Chelsea manager in a shock 5-2 win at Stamford Bridge. In fact, their eight goals against the Blues over two fixtures accounted for a quarter of all their goals scored in the Premier League over the season. Behind Pereira, no other West Brom reached double figures. The Baggies’ struggle to score goals, and an absence of a natural goalscorer up front, surely contributed to their doomed campaign as much as their leaky defence.
Before today, Chelsea were undefeated and hadn't conceded a single goal at Stamford Bridge under Thomas Tuchel.— B/R Football (@brfootball) April 3, 2021
Then they conceded five in defeat to 19th-placed West Brom ðŸ™ƒ pic.twitter.com/CSYFTbdHgO
Allardyce has been cagey on his future - if he is to stay on as Albion manager, he will need assurances from ownership that the squad will be bolstered. In the event players like Johnstone and Pereira leave the club, the Baggies face an uphill battle to win promotion back to the Premier League at the first time of asking. But as Norwich City and Watford proved this year, it’s not out of the realm of possibility for the right team with the right coach.