Is it possible for a team who are about to have their fifth consecutive campaign of Premier League football to fall foul of ‘second season syndrome’? West Bromwich Albion and their manager Steve Clarke will be hoping not, but there is something in the signing of former Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool star Nicolas Anelka that suggests next year could be a difficult one for the Baggies.
OK, you might say that on a free transfer a year’s contract for the 34-year-old is a shot to nothing, but it could be a signal that Clarke might not find things as easy as he did last season.
Many people expected West Brom to struggle when Jose Mourinho’s former assistant took the reins for his first managerial post, but he proved the doubters wrong with a fantastic season, particularly before Christmas.
The months after the New Year were less fruitful, though, and with little transfer activity so far and the loss of Romelu Lukaku to contend with, Clarke will be hoping his side can avoid a decline when the real stuff gets underway next month.
West Brom’s first proper pre-season fixture takes place in Germany against Hannover, who, like the Baggies, had a mid-table finish last season in the Bundesliga.
It is perhaps why the odds are fairly close, with all outcomes odds-against: Hannover are 6/5, with the draw at 12/5 and an away win quoted at 7/4.
But in truth, the home win at 6/5 is the way to play this one.
While West Brom are taking to the field for the first time, their German opponents have already played four friendlies this summer with their first competitive match two weeks earlier than Clarke’s side.
That extra bit of sharpness makes all the difference at this early stage of the campaign, as will home advantage.
Only the top four took more points than Hannover on their own patch last year, and at 6/5 they should be backed to see off the rusty Baggies.