They will also be taking a close look at newcomers to the Premier League. Much of the attention has, naturally, been on the return of Leeds United, driven by the enigmatic and innovative Marcelo Bielsa. But another club familiar with the top flight also returned, with a little less fanfare and a lot less time spent in the second tier.
West Bromwich Albion, headed by ex-West Ham manager Slaven Bilic, confirmed their promotion to the Championship with a 2-2 draw against QPR on Wednesday. It was nervous and tense, but the Baggies did enough to secure the last automatic promotion spot.
And they’ll plan to do a lot more than catch up with the numbers next season.
“We have work to do but I haven’t thought about it because of this crazy situation,” Bilic said. “We did a bit of work during the lockdown. Now, not today, not tomorrow or the day after tomorrow and we will see next week. ”
West Brom could feel in a good position to do reasonably well in the Premier League. They have built up a lot of momentum and have often looked a level above their opposition throughout this campaign. Leeds eventually fled to the top, but it was only Bilic’s side, for much of the season, giving them a real challenge for the title.
The Croatian made the Baggies one of the most effective offensive teams in the division. Only Brentford has scored more goals than West Brom’s 77 – and neither team has lost fewer games (7).
Interestingly, West Brom did not have any players among the division’s top scorers. Charlie Austin, at 11, was at the top of the list, but several others contributed. Hal Robson-Kanu also hit double digits, while the excellent Matheus Pereira, Grady Diangana and Matt Phillips finished with eight to their name.
Pereira has been an outstanding player for West Brom, registering 16 assists – comfortably the most in the division – as well as his goals. With him to the right of the top four in Bilic’s 4-2-3-1 system, and equally impressive Diangana to the left, defenders have often been given the runaround at the Hawthorns.
The latter is on loan from West Ham, so he looks likely to return to his parent club before next season. And it will probably be necessary to bring in a more reliable striker to lead the line. But West Brom fans will trust Bilic’s ability to find the right attacking players.
The most pressing issue may be defensive improvement. Leaving 45 goals suggests there is room to improve at the back, and there were signs of vulnerability in the final game against QPR. These weaknesses will also be mercilessly exploited by teams of Liverpool’s quality.
So they’re a team that looks likely to score goals in the Premier League (they’ve managed an average of 14.7 shots per game this season, just behind Leeds’ 16.4). A few smart tweaks and additions should be enough to transform the Baggies into a competitive top-flight outfit.
And there shouldn’t be a shortage of funds. the wealth of owner Guochuan Lai , combined with increased earnings in the Premier League, should allow the club to invest in the transfer market and gain a foothold in the division.
The aim may be to replicate another Midlands club, Wolves, who have spent smartly to be in a position to move them into the top six. At the moment, those aspirations are a bit remote, but that’s hardly unrealistic for West Brom.
For Liverpool, the return of the Baggies, alongside Leeds, likely means a stronger Premier League for next season. The Reds will be keeping a close eye on their future opponents as they look to clinch back-to-back league titles.