Key man: Nicolas Anelka
Predicted position: 9th
Had it not been for Swansea’s League Cup success, West Bromwich would have been a shoe-in candidate to be named surprise team of the season last year, as the Baggies achieved an excellent eight-place finish, their highest-ever league finish since 1980-81.
West Brom picked up an impressive 26 in points from the first 13 games and even occupied one of the Champions League spots, before faltering down the table in the second half of the season as they narrowly missed out on a European spot.
Much of Albion’s surprise factor last season hinged on the performances of Romelu Lukaku, as the young Belgian made the most of his loan spell from Chelsea, netting 16 Premier League goals – twice as many as Shane Long, the club’s second-best goalscorer – despite starting only 17 matches throughout his league campaign.
Lukaku was unplayable at times and his healthy goal return coupled with his physical presence will be sorely missed by Steve Clarke now that the Belgian has returned to Chelsea, but the 49-year-old has moved quickly to replace his big man.
Perhaps not ironically considering his Chelsea past, Steve Clarke has turned to another striker who delighted and frustrated the Stamford Bridge crowd during his spell in South West London.
For all his petulance, Nicolas Anelka represents an excellent signing for the Baggies, particularly considering that he arrived at The Hawthorns on a free transfer, after a rather unfortunate time in China and an even less lucky on loan spell with Juventus
The former Chelsea striker impressed in pre-season and could form an intriguing partnership with Matej Vidra, who returns to English football for his second consecutive loan spell, having spent last season at Watford.
The Czech striker, last season’s Championship Player of the Year, showed devastating pace and an eye for the goal during his spell at Vicarage Road and agreed to join West Brom after following the advice of Watford manager Gianfranco Zola.
Vidra might have to wait for his chance, as more experienced heads such as Shane Long and Markus Rosenberg remain ahead of him in the pecking in order but neither of them are exactly prolific, while Peter Odemwingie’s future remains up in the air.
The Nigerian striker could still leave the club, following Marc-Antoine Fortune, Jason Koumas, Jerome Thomas and Gonzalo Jara out of the club, while Zoltan Gera was re-signed after having been released.
The Hungarian is likely to do a job in midfield as usual, where Albion are unchanged from last season with Claudio Yacob and Youssouf Mulumbu protecting the back four, while Graham Dorrans and James Morrison are expected to provide guile and, hopefully, goals.
Ben Foster remains a certainty in goal, while it was almost impossible to look beyond Gareth McAuley and Jonas Olsson in terms of centre-backs, until the arrival of Uruguay captain Diego Lugano on a free transfer from PSG.
The 32-year-old spent the second half of last season on loan at Malaga, after failing to impress in his first 18 months in the French capital, but his performances at the Confederations Cup were encouraging enough to convince Steve Clarke to sign him.
The West Brom manager also managed to secure Macedonia international Goran Popov on loan from Dynamo Kiev for a further 12 months, after the left-back had spent last season on loan at The Hawthorns.
Popov is likely to challenge Liam Ridgewell for the left-back spot, while Billy Jones and Steven Reid will battle it out for the spot on the other flank.
Clarke is still looking to add to his squad, with the club linked with former Swansea’s man Scott Sinclair, the sort of player who would add another dimension to West Brom’s game courtesy of his pace and direct approach.
Albion are clearly too good to be involved in the relegation scrap while reproducing last season’s form could prove to be an uphill task, but one that Steve Clarke and his men are likely to relish.