Ahead of Saturday’s game at The Hawthorns, Bluemoon caught up with Mark Thomas from Albion Till We Die and Liam from www.westbrom.com to get the lowdown on the opposition...
What are your expectations for this season?
M: After the departure of Roy Hodgson and the arrival of the inexperienced Steve Clarke, I think most Albion fans probably feared this season would be something of a struggle. Thankfully, and it is early days I know, but it looks as though those fears were unfounded. Talk of a push for the Europa League is probably a bit over optimistic but another top ten finish is more than possible.
L: Initially to survive! For a club like us, surviving is paramount as we don't really have the financial resources to really push ourselves forward. What we've achieved so far is through to good coaching and extremely good scouting. After seeing how we've played so far, finishing in the top ten is more than achievable. Especially as we were 10th last year. Finishing top dog in the Midlands, and beating the Villa will also be paramount to our fans.
Are you happy with the manager?
M: Yes. I have to admit I was one of the doubters when he was appointed but so far he has shown he does have what it takes to be a ‘number 1’ after so many years as an assistant. Tactically he seems fine, he generally says the right thing and the players all seem happy playing for him.
L: Head coach. Lol. I am so far yes. I wanted us to appoint Ralf Rangnick in the summer who was heavily linked with us. We'd had him over for interviews but it never materialised. The club wanted to give us a big name, we chased Ranieri and Rangnick but unfortunately, we're West Bromwich Albion and we're just not attractable enough to those big names. Clarke came as a surprise but he is a very good which is what we look for. The signs so far are extremely positive.
Who are your key players?
M: The trio of Ben Foster, Jonas Olsson and Youssouf Mulumbu.
Foster is probably the most well known of the trio, an excellent shot stopper who won us numerous points last season and was rightly named our player of the season. Olsson has been our best player so far this season, totally committed to the cause he is our ‘rock’ in defence. To the relief of all Baggies the Swedish international recently signed a new four year deal. Mulumbu meanwhile has also had an excellent start to the season, never stops harrying opponents, a decent passer and knocks in the occasional goal, vastly underrated by the national media and other club’s fans he is one of the best midfielders seen at The Hawthorns for years.
L: We have a number to be honest. Jonas Olsson is extremely important to us, the stats back that up. Generally when he isn't there we're all over the place. He's solid at the back, gets his head on everything, kicks everything and it was fantastic news last friday to here that he'd signed a new four year deal. James Morrison has also been fantastic for over 12 months now, he'll give you the most problems on Saturday. Because of the system we place, the pace of Odemwingie is also extremely vital to us, and of course, there's Shane Long who will run his balls off.
Were you happy with the business conducted during the transfer window?
M: At the time it did look as though we had done a fair bit of good business but at the moment only two of the five new faces have really contributed. Claudio Yacob and Romelu Lukaku both came with big reputations and have lived up to them but Swedish international Markus Rosenberg has been a big disappointment whilst Belgian winger Yassine El Ghanassy has yet to force his way into Steve Clarke’s plans.
L: Extremely happy. We improved the squad which is what we needed to do. Ben Foster is a very good capture. The second best English keeper, although, Hart isn't too far ahead, contrary to the Media reports - £4m we paid for him. Complete snip. Claudio Yacob was relatively unknown and joined on a free transfer and so far he's been very good. You'll see him breaking up play and trying to dictate the tempo. Markus Rosenberg has a good pedigree, although we've yet to see him much yet. Romelu Lukaku has bags of potential, of which he is showing so it was a very good transfer window for us. Goran Popov has added competition to Liam Ridgewell at left back.
The players out had also passed their sell by date.
Are there any rising stars in the squad that we might not have heard of?
M: There’s nothing really coming through the youth system at the moment but the aforementioned Claudio Yacob has been a revelation so far this season. Signed from Argentinean side Racing Club and unheard of by most, he was bought to sit in front of the defence and break opposition attacks up. He has made a huge difference to our team, allowing the other midfielders a lot more freedom to get forward. A key figure in our good start to the season.
L: We have hopes that Craig Dawson and George Thorne will become regulars but we do have our doubts. The next batch of youngsters are coming through and recently had moves into the championship. James Hurst and Saido Berahino have joined Blues & P'boro. Sam Mantom, Scott Allan also have bright futures providing they get the right loan moves. Our most promising star is Donervan Daniels who is currently in the clubs academy.
Your Achilles heel?
M: At the moment it is at right-back. Regular starter Steven Reid is injured and his usual replacement Billy Jones is also out. Centre-back Gabriel Tamas filled in during the last match against QPR but had such a torrid time he was hauled off at half-time to save him from getting sent-off. As a whole our defence is a touch on the slow side as well which is a worry against any team with pace.
L: My Achilles is fine, thank you! Jokes aside, the right back position is a position which lets us down. Especially at the moment where our two right backs are both injured!
If you could have any City player in your team who would you choose?
M: Carlos Tevez. Very much like Suarez at Liverpool in that I don’t think he’s the most pleasant of characters but boy can he play. A top top player.
L: Yaya, Yaya, Yaya, Yaya, Yaya, Yaya TOURE! The song aside, he is a fantastic footballer and I'd love to see him in the stripes. It will never ever happen. Our chairman would have heart attack sanctioning such moves!
What is your perception of City as a club?
M: I’ve always liked City as a club and still do, super stadium, good supporters and a likeable manager. During the 80s and 90s I saw a lot of similarities between Albion and City although that of course has now all changed with the investment that has taken place.
L: I generally prefer you to the red side of Manchester. We were both similar clubs a while back until you had the investment. I'd mentioned on the forum about 2002 and how we both came up together. You've pushed on, and our steady progression is finally getting its rewards. You're likeable club, and providing your supporters remember where they were ten years ago, then that won't change. There's a tendency that fans become arrogant, and I would like to think that won't happen with the City supporters.
Likely starting XI for the game, and score prediction?
M: I think Clarke will probably line-up with: Foster, Popov, Ridgewell, Olsson, McAuley, Mulumbu, Yacob, Morrison, Odemwingie, Gera and Long playing a 4-5-1 formation.
I’d be happy with a repeat of last season’s draw but I fear you may have a little bit too much quality for us. I’ll say a 2-1 win for City.
Reid McAuley Olsson Ridgewell
Wingie Morrison Gera
My prediction - 0-2 City.