Ever heard the saying “waiting for a winger and then three come along at once”? No? Me neither. But if it existed it would surely apply to the Baggies right now.
A frenetic end to the transfer window saw the club sign Matheus Pereira from Sporting, Grady Diangana from West Ham, and Chris Willock from Benfica – all on loan – and the squad is now blessed with no fewer than seven wingers.
Whilst these signings bring in some much needed pace and youth, both of which were clearly lacking last season, it does pose a few questions; how is Bilic going to fit them all in? What formation is he going to play? What does this mean for our existing wide players? Should we have got another striker instead?
The departure of Jonathan Leko to Charlton has made some of these decisions a little easier, and it seems like a good move for a player who even before Deadline Day was unlikely to make it into the starting eleven, but you have to wonder how the new arrivals will affect Kyle Edwards’ and Oli Burke’s chances of starting.
Edwards of course scored the Baggies’ first goal in the victory over Forest last week so you’d think he’d made the left wing spot his own, but the talented Pereira comes with high expectations and experience playing in Portugal’s top tier, and more recently the German Bundesliga, so he could be in with a shout of claiming the position from Edwards.
Over on the other wing you’ve got Matty Phillips who’s unlikely to lose his spot to any of the new arrivals any time soon. He’s an experienced pro and a fan favourite, but with Phillips the inevitable injury is always on the horizon so competition in his position can only be welcomed.
And what of Burke? Bilic has opted to play him in a more central striker role in recent matches, which included an energetic half hour stint against Forest, so perhaps this is where the Croatian sees his future? This might also help explain the reason behind only bringing in one striker, Charlie Austin, on deadline day, despite many fans believing we needed two. After a big money move from RB Leipzig two years ago, much was expected from Burke and he’s yet to deliver, so there was hope in many fans quarters that this would be his break out season; time will tell whether he’ll be given the chance to prove himself.
Another explanation for the influx of wingers could be down to interpretation of what a winger really is. We’re assuming these are all wide men who love to tear it up and down the flanks, but we’ve already seen that Bilic is willing to play players in new positions – we mentioned Burke above, and he gave Nathan Ferguson, traditionally a central defender, his debut last week at right back. Perhaps the manager sees the potential for his fleet of young attacking players to feature all over the attacking third.
Edwards could be a good candidate to shift into the middle. It’s from this position he scored his wonderful goal against Brentford last season, and interestingly if you take a look at the official club website, he’s listed as a forward alongside Hal Robson-Kanu, Kenneth Zohore, Austin and another promising prospect, Rayhaan Tulloch. Burke is listed as a midfielder – go figure.
Of course we don’t know what Big Slav has in mind for his new recruits, or for that matter what formation he’s likely to prefer, but despite talk of wanting to play with two strikers he opted for more of a 4-2-3-1 in the first match of the season. Perhaps this was down to a lack of personnel, or maybe he’s trying to make the most of the abundance of talent available across the middle of the park.
So it’s fair to say that there are plenty of attacking options this season, which can only be a good thing, and with Bilic’s reputation for blooding young talent, they’re more than likely to be given an opportunity to impress which is sure to make for an exciting season.
The match this Saturday against Millwall will probably come too soon for some of the new arrivals, and a promising start against Forest suggests he might not need to make any changes to the starting eleven, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a couple of new faces given their chance off the bench at some point.