With a 4-0 thrashing of Cardiff City, West Bromwich Albion rubber-stamped their credentials as promotion candidates in the Championship odds. It was the kind of performance that demonstrated the gulf in quality between the two sides. Cardiff, who have been in the Premier League as recently as the 2018-19 season, haven’t really threatened the promotion places since, and that showed in their meek surrender at the hands of the Baggies.
Valérien Ismaël was brought to the Hawthorns to ensure that West Brom spent no more than a single campaign back in the second tier. Having guided Barnsley to an unlikely play-off push last season, Ismaël was a man in demand, and the West Brom hierarchy saw him as the perfect fit to replace Sam Allardyce and take the club forward.
He’s certainly done a good job so far. After 10 games played at the time of writing, West Brom are sitting pretty at the top of the Championship table, having not lost a single game. They are also the league’s top scorers with 20 goals, with Ismaël making them both clinical in front of goal and resolute in defence.
West Brom fans will be relieved to see their team doing so well at the beginning of this season. You never really know how a team will respond to dropping out of the Premier League, and we have seen countless examples of teams who have struggled to adapt to life back in the Championship. But West Brom have handled things well so far, and in many ways, bringing in Ismaël has helped in creating a fresh start for the club and the players.
The reality is that the Baggies were not far off surviving last season in the Premier League. There were times where they performed well in matches but struggled to put the ball in the net, or moments of misfortune went against them. One example that springs to mind is goalkeeper Alisson’s late headed winner for Liverpool towards the end of the season — something a team just can’t legislate for.
Allardyce was left bemoaning his team’s luck at times, but in the end not even Big Sam could save the West Midlands side from the drop. It was the first time he had been relegated as a manager, but even in West Brom’s slide into the second tier there were some positives to take. They played some fine football at times, and perhaps with a stronger defence they might have been able to scramble enough points to survive.
There is certainly enough quality in West Brom’s ranks to challenge for the Championship title and bounce straight back into the Premier League. They’ll be a difficult side to stop if they can continue to build momentum, and as long as that unbeaten run remains intact, other teams will fear a trip to the Hawthorns. It’s no surprise that they are a hot pick in the English Championship betting tips.
Ismaël is the man masterminding West Brom’s outstanding start to the season, and it seems as though the Frenchman can do no wrong at the moment. He has a reputation as a bit of a taskmaster, but at the moment the Baggies are flourishing under his leadership.
“I’m a winner, I have a winning mentality,” Ismaël said when he took the job back in August. “It is the reason why we do this job; we put a lot of energy into it. Sometimes I don’t like wasting time when we are not performing to 100 per cent, and sometimes I just need to say what needs saying.
“It comes across with my emotion but I know that when my players give everything, I protect my player, I will give everything for them.”