With less than 10 days remaining before the end of the January transfer window, West Bromwich Albion have yet to complete a winter move due in large part to the issues surrounding the £20 million loan the club’s owner and majority shareholder, Lai Guoachan has taken out to help with the day-to-day running costs of the team. In this piece, I will explore how Albion could get around their shoestring budget and strengthen the squad for what seems to be a promotion push in the 2nd half of the season.
Since the arrival of Carlos Corberan, Albion has, for the most part, started in a 4–2–3–1 formation. This turns into a 4–4–2 out of possession (despite at times opting to press high, like the 2–0 win against Preston North End in late December), the Baggies usually defend in a mid to low block.
Albion usually attempts to play out from the back, going short from goal kicks to circulating the ball patiently until the opportunity to get at the opponent’s last line of defence presents itself. Structurally Albion operates in a 2–3–5 with the fullbacks inverting and the 10 being given a free role.
West Brom’s structure in possession
Albion has a thin but relatively versatile squad, with multiple players capable of covering different positions — in case of injuries and suspensions. With that being said, the cover for some areas is particularly poor. Since the World Cup break, Albion manager Carlos Corberan has made his preference for a left-footer at centre-back by using experienced left-back Erik Pieters over Kyle Bartley on the left side of defence.
West Brom usually operates in a mid-block which makes box defending crucial. This has created a problem for Albion as box defending is probably the weakest are of Pieters game.So far this season Pieters has won 53% of his aerial duels (15th percentile for centre-backs in the “next 8 leagues” via FBref) in the EFL Championship this season. He also ranks poorly in blocks (10th percentile).
Taking that into account, it would be wise for Albion to replace the Dutchman in the January window. Conor Townsend could probably do with some competition at left-back as he is the only senior member of the squad who is a natural in this position.
Left Centre Back 1
Mattia Viti is a 20-year-old, left-footed Italian centre-back who has been plying his trade in France with OGC Nice. Viti signed for Nice in the summer but has struggled for game time, only starting 7 out of 19 matches in the league this season, (the last of which was on the 23rd of October against Nantes).
At 6 foot 3 inches tall, he is an excellent box defender, ranking in the 89th percentile for blocks amongst centre-backs in Europe’s top 5 leagues (FBref) with 1.69 per 90. However, the Italian’s contract runs until 2027 making a loan move the only viable option for West Brom.
Left Centre Back 2
Clark Robertson is a 29-year-old left-footed centre-back currently playing in League 1 with Portsmouth. The former Rotherham defender stands at 6 foot 1 inch and tops League 1 for accurate long balls per 90 with 7.8. So far this season Robertson has played 15 matches and only made 16 interceptions according to FotMob. He is fairly comfortable in the air and should be capable of playing in a mid-block.
There are some concerns over his ability to play in a back four with him operating on the left of a back three at his last two clubs. Robertson would likely rotate with Pieters as opposed to coming in and taking his place, but, with his contract running out in the summer, Robertson is a player Albion should consider.
Left Centre Back 3
Jan Paul Van Hecke would be an incredible signing for Albion. His blend of athleticism and bravery makes him an absolute monster defensively, (as was on show for Blackburn Rovers last season where the Dutchman ranked in the 99th percentile for blocks P90, completing just under two per game). The Dutchman’s fearlessness extends to his on the ball qualities too. His gangly dribbling style has seen him almost ghost through opposition presses throughout his career.
The Dutchman’s quick feet allow him to play on either side of defence despite being right-footed, (this is probably what saw him play in the middle of Blackburn’s back three last season). It was in the middle of this back three where Van Hecke was allowed to show off his passing range as he completed 65% of his long balls for Blackburn.
Van Hecke’s ability in the opposition box means he could be the set-piece target Albion have been missing ever since Kyle Bartley has been out the side. Van Hecke ranked in the 78th percentile for shots per 90 amongst “next 8 leagues” centre-backs in the 21/22 season.
He has only played three minutes of league football for Brighton this season and with Lewis Dunk, Adam Webster, Joel Veltman and Levi Colwill all ahead of him in the pecking order, his playing time situation doesn’t seem like it will be changing any time soon. The 22-year-old may look for a move elsewhere. His contract runs out in the summer meaning Albion could potentially get him on a reduced fee.
Left Back 1
Brandon Williams hasn’t played in the league since 8th May 2022. The right-footed left-back is an excellent one-on-one defender and his weaknesses on the ball would probably be mitigated by playing more centrally. Williams would certainly be able to provide competition to Conor Townsend — who can be poor defensively at times. A five-month loan deal would allow Williams to rediscover his form whilst giving Albion the depth they need at full-back.
Left Back 2
Ryan Manning is the perfect upgrade on Conor Townsend. They are nearly identical in profile, but, to put it simply, Manning is just better — his final ball is usually perfect. Defensively Manning does the job and possesses a great leap which allows him to beat people in the air despite his height.
Manning moves the ball well which is important for a fullback in this Albion team, given they are largely responsible for progressing the ball in the first and second phases. Manning’s contract expires in the summer and if Albion managed to get him on a reduced fee it could easily go down as the Championship deal of the window.
Updated depth chart (signings in red)
By: Rickylee Griffiths / @rickyleegriffi2
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Manchester United