What has been a painful run-in for Baggies fans will finally come to an end on Sunday at the Liberty Stadium in Swansea, but while the hosts have secured their Premier League survival, the prize money based on where each club finishes means that there is still plenty to play for.
Having sat in 8th place since New Year’s Eve, the 3-1 defeat to Manchester City on Tuesday saw the Baggies drop into 9th place on goal difference while Southampton’s draw against Manchester United on Wednesday means that the Saints are now a point ahead. However, Leicester’s hammering by Spurs on Thursday means that Albion are pretty much guaranteed a top ten finish, what would be Pulis’s first in the Premier League. With Bournemouth and Leicester City playing each other on the final day, both clubs cannot finish above the Baggies while it would take an eleven-goal swing for West Ham to move ahead. Nonetheless, the 8th-placed team will receive £4 million more in prize money than the side finishing in 10th – that’s two and a half James McCleans!
So there is still plenty to play for. A draw could be enough to get 8th should Bournemouth not beat Leicester and Southampton lose to Stoke, but a win will obviously give the Baggies a better chance and would certainly secure 9th. The Swans, themselves, could finish as high as 15th if results go their way, but only a victory could lift them above their current 17th spot.
Swansea has not been a happy hunting ground for the Baggies over the years with only three wins in 34 visits, the latest of which came three years ago. That was a massive three points in the relegation scrap as Pepe Mel guided the Baggies to safety, secured thanks to goals from Stéphane Sessègnon and Youssuf Mulumbu. There was a fourth victory against the club that were then known as Swansea Town at the Vetch Field on 26th August 1939 – Harry Jones scored a brace for the Baggies in a 2-1 in Division Two. However, the outbreak of World War II a few days later meant that the season was abandoned and the matches played up to that point were expunged from the official records.
This will be the first time that Albion have come up against a side managed by Paul Clement. Brother of Baggies’ legend Neil Clement, and son of QPR and England defender Dave Clement who committed suicide at the age of 34, he is in his second managerial position having been in charge of Derby County for most of the 2015/16 season. He is a vastly experienced coach, however, having worked with Carlo Ancelotti at Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munich. He started superbly at Swansea winning six of his first eight Premier League games in charge, but that was followed by a run of just one point from six games which left them perilously close to the drop. However, ten points from the last four games has been enough to secure safety and Clement can now start planning for the summer transfer window.
As for Tony Pulis, he must be desperate for one last victory to put a little shine on the end of the season. Just one point from the last eight games including four successive 1-0 defeats at home, and just five points from the twelve games played since hitting 40 points at the end of February. Arguably, Albion could, and maybe should, have got something from those four home games but the fact remains that they didn’t, and while a top ten finish is certainly a good season for West Bromwich Albion, and will be Pulis’s best ever finishing position in the Premier League, the nature of the run-in means that Albion fans are once again questioning whether the Welshman is the right man to take the Baggies forward.
Taking a step back, however, it is remarkable that such a small squad, with just two strikers, achieved what they did in the first six months of the season. It is perhaps unsurprising that the level has dropped off, but what is surprising is that the drop has been less a gradual decline than a vertical cliff face. A win on Sunday would go some way to recovering some faith ahead of what will be a massive summer for Tony Pulis and West Bromwich Albion.
Rondón and McAuley both face late fitness tests while Matt Phillips is likely to miss out meaning that Naceur Chadli, the subject of much criticism on Tuesday evening, will almost certainly start again. The result could hinge on how Swansea approach the game – if they relax having achieved their goal, Albion could well get all three points if they can remember how they were playing four months ago, but they could go out and play with much more freedom without the relegation threat hanging over them, and Swansea have some very good players that could cause problems for the Baggies.
Salomón Rondón scored a hat trick against the Swans in December, but has only managed one goal since. In fact, he has four goals in his two games against Swansea – maybe there’s a pattern forming here.
I think this one will finish all square with Albion finishing in 9th place.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
14 Dec 2016 – Premier League
West Brom 3 (Rondón (3))
Swansea City 1 (Routledge)
Last meeting at Swansea City
26 Dec 2015 – Premier League
Swansea City 1 (Ki)
West Brom 0
Last win at Swansea City
15 Mar 2014 – Premier League
Swansea City 1
West Brom 2 (Sessègnon, Mulumbu)
Albion’s Record against Swansea City
|Premier League Record|