West Brom may have finished the 2012/13 campaign peering down from their highest ever Premier League finish with Midlands rivals Aston Villa seven places back in 15th, but the clubs’ respective summer recruitment strategies suggest that it’s Paul Lambert’s men that have the more progressive profile ahead of the new campaign.
The Baggies started last season like a cork from a magnum of the finest champagne – notching eight wins from their first 13 games to find themselves daydreaming in third place – but like the bubbly stuff they lost much of their fizz as the party wore on.
Odd then – given the way the way in which they found playing to their early season levels unsustainable – that Clarke should choose to augment his playing options with dotage-approaching professionals Nicholas Anelka and Diego Lugano.
Both are undoubtedly classy players, but arrive in the twilight stages of their careers on the back of disappointing seasons.
Anelka notched just three times in 22 games in semi retirement at Shanghai Shenhua, before failing to get a look in on loan at Juventus. Meanwhile, Lugano made just 10 starts on loan from PSG to Malaga, who decided against making his move permanent.
Both men will bring wisdom and experience at the highest level to the dressing room, but it’s difficult to imagine them being able to make a consistently game changing contribution in Europe’s most physically demanding divison, with Lugano’s lack of pace a particular worry.
The young Villains are the 9/10 underdoggers in a seasonal match bet with Steve Clarke’s side (4/5), making them good value to over haul the cougar-courting Baggies.
That Paul Lambert was able to ultimately pull off his ballsy youth gamble last term is testament to his rising star in the managerial firmament and Villa’s young tyros should reap the benefits of that trial by fire this season, after all they finished just eight points behind West Brom in 2012/13.
As well as keeping hold of 23-goal striker Christian Benteke, new faces have arrived at Villa Park to strengthen the squad and whilst still young and hungry, the likes of Alexander Tonev, Leandro Bacuna, Nicklas Helenius have all amassed over 100 starts in European top flights, with Jores Okore even boasting Champions League experience for FC Nordsjaelland.
Whereas West Brom’s slender summer business lends the Hawthorns squad a stagnant air, Villa’s looks set to propel them beyond relegation concerns this year and they look sure to turnaround 2012/13’s eight point deficit with their West Midlands rivals.