West Bromwich Albion travel to the Riverside Stadium to face Middlesbrough on Saturday evening and Kyle Bartley could start at centre-back despite being linked with a move away from the Baggies this summer.

The 31-year-old had an uncertain future at West Brom after a disappointing campaign under Valerien Ismael and Steve Bruce compared to Matthew Clarke, Semi Ajayi and Dara O’Shea.

But since returning from injury, Bartley has built up his match fitness in two pre-season friendlies, so he should be ready to start against Middlesbrough. It’s quite the turnaround for the much-maligned player.

Bartley made 39 Championship appearances in 2021/22 but was dropped in two of West Brom’s last five games before cutting his campaign short in May due to injury, so he looked to be surplus to requirements over the summer.

Bruce was trying to sign another defender too, but he failed to lure Matthew Clarke and Darragh Lenihan to the Hawthorns permanently. So after letting Cedric Kipre and Caleb Taylor leave on loan, West Brom wouldn’t offload a third centre-back.

Only Conor Townsend racked up more minutes in the Championship (3780) than Bartley (3440) last season, so he’s an important player despite the inconsistency. The 31-year-old got West Brom promoted in the past, so Bruce may be relying on his experience to do it again.

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