If this Premier League season has taught anything, it’s that you’re never really gone until you’re gone. It seems ludicrous now that, just four games into the season, some observers had already written Crystal Palace off. Winless and without a goal after four games under Frank de Boer, the Eagles seemed to be hurtling uncontrollably towards relegation.
Then they sacked De Boer and appointed Roy Hodgson, which has turned out to be a masterstroke on the behalf Steve Parish, the club’s chairman.
Swansea City soon took over as the Premier League’s crisis club. By the time Paul Clement was sacked a week prior to Christmas, the Swans were anchored to the bottom of the table after a run of ten defeats in 13 games. Again, they looked odds-on for the drop but Carlos Carvalhal’s appointment triggered an upturn in form, including wins over Watford, Liverpool and Arsenal.
Swansea may yet go down but they do not look as rudderless and bereft as they did under Clement.
But the late-season mini-revival is being staged by West Bromwich Albion, who are almost certainly kicking themselves for not sacking Alan Pardew earlier.
Pardew succeeded Tony Pulis in November but was dismissed four months into his reign after a dismal run of one win in 18 games. Pardew left the Baggies teetering on the brink, rooted to the bottom and ten points adrift of safety.
It looked hopeless but Darren Moore has defied expectations, instigating a dramatic reversal in fortunes that has given the Midlands club a fighting chance of securing their top-flight status for next season.
With just a trip to Crystal Palace remaining, we take a look at the stats behind the revival under Moore, highlighting the main areas he has improved after succeeding Pardew in the dugout.
Personality goes a long way
Before we delve into the stats, it’s worth mentioning that the West Brom squad really seem to have responded to Moore. Following Pardew’s departure, a particularly damning report from the Express & Star detailed how he had lost the respect of the dressing room.
That report seemed to be corroborated inadvertently by James McClean who, after helping the Baggies to a shock victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford, said the players “now know what they’re doing”.
West Brom became one of the most stubborn and exceptionally well-drilled units during Pulis’ tenure, with finishes of 13th, 14th and tenth reflecting some semblance of stability and consistency.
And while the Baggies’ form deteriorated in the latter stages of Pulis’ reign, any sense of cohesion completely vanished under Pardew.
In Moore, though, West Brom have found a commanding touchline presence, a figure who is well-respected at the club from a five-year playing stint at the Hawthorns and the work he had done with the under-23 side.
Personality goes a long way and Moore unquestionably towers over the arrogant, alienating Pardew in that regard, so much so that he has captured the hearts and minds of those connected to the club and has pushed himself firmly into the reckoning for being appointed on a permanent basis.
Whereas Pardew managed just one win in 18 games, Moore has picked up three victories in five. The other two matches have been draws which means, with 11 points, Moore has picked up more points in five games than his predecessor did in 18 in a devastating indictment of Pardew’s four months in charge.
We’ve compared Pardew and Moore’s reigns using our new team persona comparison widget, which provides a clear illustration of some of the key differences between the two managers.
Pardew’s aim was to free up West Brom, to inject excitement into their attacking play. However, as the graph above shows, his Baggies side were heavily reliant on long balls. Moore naturally projects calmness and authority and those characteristics are reflected in the club’s performances over the last month, with West Brom concentrating more on keeping passes a little shorter, simpler and all the more effective.
There has been a common thread in Moore’s press conferences and interviews: focus. Moore wants his players to remain intensely concentrated on the task at hand until the final whistle blows.
When Jake Livermore scored in stoppage time against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday, the Hawthorns erupted. Yet, as the players celebrated and fans dreamed of a great escape, Moore stayed eerily still in his technical area. When the hysteria eventually eased, he simply pressed his finger to his temple, offering a knowing stare in the direction of his players.
Having served as a first-team coach under Pardew, Moore knows as well as anyone how costly lapses in concentration can be. When West Brom took the lead against Southampton in February, they conceded two in three minutes before half-time and another ten minutes after the interval. Moore has been singularly focused on avoiding such abrupt collapses.
And while the Baggies have still been forced to concede the lion’s share of possession in some of the games under Moore, with just 29, 26 and 38 per cent of the ball against Manchester United, Tottenham and Liverpool respectively, the defence has been tighter behind the ball.
In the graphic above, Pardew’s West Brom were far more prone to conceding chances. At Old Trafford, though, Moore’s Baggies limited United to four shots on target. Under Pardew, they conceded an average of 1.6 goals per game but Moore has shaved that down to 0.6. In fact, during the club’s eight-game losing streak under Pardew, they were averaging 2.5 goals conceded per game, so it’s been a sudden and dramatic transformation under Moore.
It’s important not to look beyond the individual improvements too. Moore has not only re-established a sense of unity at the Hawthorns, his decisive and authoritative style of leadership has breathed new life into players who had been disillusioned under Pardew.
2 – Darren Moore has won more Premier League matches in four games in charge at West Bromwich Albion than Alan Pardew did in 18 for the Baggies. Hope.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 28, 2018
They include McClean who, having found starts hard to come by under Pardew, has been rejuvenated in the new regime. The Republic of Ireland winger has started all five games under Moore and has run himself into the ground in every one.
Another player who has come to the fore in recent weeks is Chris Brunt. While Moore can’t be credited for Brunt’s new role in midfield, the captain has been an immensely influential figure, particularly in the win over Spurs. In that game, Brunt seemed to be everywhere, making three interceptions, winning two aerial battles and completing 74 per cent of his passes.
The stats are illustrative, for sure, but perhaps the resurgence under Moore is best summed by Livermore who, after scoring the winning goal against Spurs on Saturday, said: “We love each other in there, all the staff, everyone. From the press to the chef, everyone, and if we have a bad season it affects all of us. Fans, everyone. We’ve got a close-knit group here, we’re trying to do it for each other.”
Simply put, it’s difficult to imagine such a sentiment during the bleak, borderline calamitous days of Pardew.