At 2:45pm on Saturday afternoon, myself and the gentleman I sit next to at the Hawthorns where definitely feeling a tad anxious and in total agreement that if we were to lose Saturday’s game against West Ham United, it would be Tony Pulis’ last for the Baggies and we would be soon on the hunt for a new head coach.
Roll on 4:50pm, and it’s safe to say that conversation was well and truly forgotten, with the pair of us now waxing lyrical at the performance that had just played out in front of us, and about one man in particular – Mr Nacer Chadli.
I was very pleased with the starting XI that Pulis went with Saturday. Chadli in behind Salomon Rondon was an exciting prospect and I felt with James McClean and Matt Phillips on either flank, the team had a much more balanced look to it.
Since day one, Pulis has been guilty of playing players out of position, but Saturday every player on the pitch was arguably in their specialist position, and it definitely showed. West Ham dominated possession throughout, but there is no denying we looked very dangerous on the break when the ball had been retrieved.
Chadli stood out from the off. He wanted the ball at this feet at every opportunity and was always looking to move the ball forward quickly. An attacking playmaker in the middle of the park is something the team has been desperately lacking for some time now, someone with that ability to bring the striker and the wide men into play more and to get the team higher up the pitch quicker.
Chadli did just that and he looked dangerous throughout his 80 minutes on the pitch, having a hand in all four goals the team scored, setting up two and scoring the other two.
I think the most promising thing for me from Saturday was his link up play with Rondon. I wrote in a season preview piece for ‘SHOOT!’ that I was envisaging a big season for the South American and was confident he could add at least another five to seven goals on top of his tally from last season IF some creative players were brought in before the summer transfer window shuts.
There were more than a few glimpses Saturday of a dangerous partnership being formed between the pair, a pairing that could cause even the best teams within the division some problems come matchday and definitely add a few more goals to the big Venezuelan’s tally.
So is Chadli the missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle for Pulis? Creativity is the one thing that’s really been lacking from Pulis’ Albion teams.
We have a one of the best defensive records in the division since he took over, so it has always been a case if he could sort out the business end, then we would surely be onto a winner. Pulis has always been adamant that he has never had the attacking players he wants at his disposal, and to judge him would be unfair until he had these players to utilise.
Even though he was quick to come out after the transfer window closed and say he didn’t get everyone that he wanted, there is no denying that in Chadli, he has at least one of those attacking players he so desperately wanted.
I personally think Pulis can have no complaints now. Yes the squad is a bit on the thin side, but with Chadli, he now has a real ‘game changer’ at his disposal, someone he can shape his team around, who will get the best out of the likes of Rondon, Hal Robson-Kanu, Phillips, McClean, James Morrison and Jonathan Leko.
There are no excuses anymore for approaching matches in an ultra-defensive way as we have a genuine class act who has the capability to unlock a defence and score a goal from nothing.