West Brom could use style, Stoke safety – A reflection of their managers

Richard Jolly previews the 'Tony Pulis derby' where he finds a West Brom steadily, yet stodgily, collecting points and Stoke flailing totally at the very bottom of the table.
West Bromwich Albion manager Tony Pulis reacts during his team's match against West Ham last weekend. Eddie Keogh / Reuters / September 17, 2016
West Bromwich Albion manager Tony Pulis reacts during his team's match against West Ham last weekend. Eddie Keogh / Reuters / September 17, 2016

West Bromwich Albion v Stoke City, Saturday 6pm, BeIn Sports 7HD (Arabic)

It is a landmark occasion. The Tony Pulis derby, the 1000th game of his managerial career, features his past and present, two clubs connected by motorways and a sense of discontent.

West Bromwich Albion supporters are unhappy about the means, everyone at Stoke City about the ends.

Pulis’ current employers reside in the upper half of the Premier League, his former club at its foot. Each, in very different ways, illustrates the problems some of its regulars encounter.

Stoke’s dreadful start threatens their top-flight status. West Brom’s looks safe at least as long as Pulis, who is in the final year of his contract, remains.

But their rather rudimentary methods have alienated fans accustomed to the better football espoused by Tony Mowbray, Roberto di Matteo, Roy Hodgson and Steve Clarke.

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It poses the question of what clubs do next after establishing themselves in a division that they are, despite Leicester City’s exploits, never likely to come close to winning.

Fans voiced their disaproval of West Brom’s football in their 1-0 defeat at Bournemouth two weeks ago.

The side responded by scoring four goals for the first time against Pulis, yet had only 29 per cent of possession when they went four up against West Ham.

They were epitomised in their efficiency by Nacer Chadli, who only had 39 touches. They included two goals and an assist.

If West Brom scoring four times was a rarity, Stoke conceding four has become all too regular.

They were thrashed 4-1 at Crystal Palace on Sunday, letting in four for the third time in four league games and the sixth in 11.

They have been breached 32 times in 12 matches since goalkeeper Jack Butland was sidelined.

Marc Wilson, the centre-back or full-back bought by Pulis and first dropped and then sold by Mark Hughes, alleged that Stoke do not work on defending under their current manager.

Hughes rebuffed those claims, but they have lost the solidity and resilience his predecessor installed.

They are not the Stoke of stereotype. They are fallible at their famously intimidating home and, rather than scoring from set-pieces, conceding from dead-ball situations.

The sense in the previous three years was that Hughes was an upgrade on Pulis. He fused on more attacking ambition and more skilful players.

Their respective records indicate a difference. Pulis has had eight seasons in the Premier League. He has come between 11th and 14th on each occasion.

Hughes has recorded eight top-10 finishes, though none in the top five.

If it suggests he is superior to his fellow Welshman, he was culpable for Queens Park Rangers’ 2013 demotion. He underachieved at Manchester City when given a sizeable budget to work with.

He sometimes buys better with a smaller budget, and Stoke’s £18 million (Dh86.4m) record signing Giannelli Imbula was dropped last week.

Hughes has a habit of looking for players from bigger clubs, a trait that has often served him well. Suddenly, they look like they would benefit from bringing back Pulis’ band of brothers, many of whom had lowlier origins.

The West Brom manager has his own transfer troubles, complaining chairman John Williams failed to land the five “marquee” signings he wanted in the summer.

His problem, however, is that results remain largely similar anyway. The temptation is to suggest that Pulis could be given the players of Barcelona or Barnet, a transfer budget of £1 billion or £1 and he would still engineer a finish somewhere between 11th and 14th. The football may get slightly better, but not dramatically.

What he is, however, is a guarantee against relegation. It is why, perhaps, these clubs could benefit from a job swap.

Pulis could go back to keeping Stoke up. Hughes could try to add style at West Brom. Because, right now, neither’s situation is really satisfactory.


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Published: September 22, 2016 04:00 AM


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