Premier League 2017-18 preview No19: West Bromwich Albion | Nick Ames

Guardian writers ‘ predicted position 12 (NB: this is not necessarily Nick Ames prediction, but the average of our writers tips)

Last season position of the 10th

The chances of winning the league (via Oddschecker) 750-1

Sometimes jokes write themselves, therefore, when Eddie Jones paid Tony Pulis and West Bromwich Albion squad-a fact-finding visit last week, the laugh proliferated as a result. That would be learning from that? “The chance to meet Tony was an important factor,” the England rugby coach said. “His reputation goes a long way and his ability to get the best out of his team is just fantastic.”

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When West Brom overpowered Arsenal 3-1 in mid-March, thanks in large part to a feature of the lesson in the movement of other parts, this statement may have rung more true than ever. They had spent nearly three months in eighth place and, while their approach was firmly disposed to the functionality of the front flair, only a churl could have discussed with the results. A fortnight later, they slogged out a goalless draw at Old Trafford; it was Pulis-by-numbers and that, at this stage, his team looked comfortably on the way to equal their best ranking in the Premier League era – eighth in 2012-13.

The taste May have been rather less sweet. Albion managed only a single point from their last eight games and reached a unwanted club record of five years in the league without scoring. They have still finished 10th – an improvement of four places on the previous campaign – but the sensation was strange. It had been another season of overachievement, but the nagging impression of dissatisfaction around The Hawthorns was difficult to ignore.

That reflects the overall feel of pre-season, for those who seek signs of progress, moved glaciers. The problem West Brom have is this: they are more stable than ever, richer than ever, too, but it is difficult to shake the idea that they are punching as high as they can.

They had briefly climbed to the seventh position before 18 consecutive match days, filed in the eighth, but the European places seemed to be always at a distance. This is the curse of the Premier League, the swollen middle: a group of eight or nine clubs, all rich beyond their wildest dreams, which go neither to the top nor to the bottom, and whose prospects appear almost interchangeable.

Gary Megson, on the right, has been out of the game since 2012, but has been hired as Tony Pulis’s No2 at West Bromwich Albion. Photograph: Michael Steele/Getty Images

Kieran Gibbs of Arsenal is among those Pulis taken into account for this season before deciding the fit was not right; it can be frustrating, but it is a responsible and, in general, the stickability of these purchases he has made during his two and a half years in charge has confirmed that the caution.

On paper West Brom have a kind of a start in 2017-18. Bournemouth, Burnley, Stoke, Brighton & Hove Albion and West Ham United is his first five opponents, while the other side of the coin, is that against teams that he will expect to take points, Pulis may prefer his team to be closer to fighting weight. The likelihood is that most of these devices will simply play an early part in the decision of the final mid-table redesign; Pulis is going to do in the first few weeks, and even if a spectacular friendly results has caused tremors among the community of fans, Albion should avoid being close to the bottom three.

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If this is not enough then the Premier League’s status quo, and look forward to the culture around him, may be as much to blame as anything, but the reality is that one more year of moderate success with the help of the Pulis mould may be sufficient.

A cut in season ticket prices this summer, had the desired effect, with sales reaching a seven-year-old, but the picture 12 months from now, may be more revealing.

Assuming that the team has reached a plateau this season, the arrival of the maturity of Pulis’s contract will be a test at the time of the Lai, ambition and his nerve. It would be easy enough to separate and make West Brom the same; the question is whether someone, in the current environment, can really do their best.