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Opposition Profile: West Bromwich Albion

Middlesbrough are set to kick off the season with a bang as they host fellow playoff hopefuls, West Brom.

West Bromwich Albion fell short of the playoffs last season as the club went through a less than stellar first half of the season. However, the dismissal of Valerian Ismaël just after the January transfer window and the subsequent appointment of Steve Bruce saw an upturn in form coming into the final stretch of the season.

The bookies expect West Brom to continue from where they left off under Steve Bruce, making them one of the playoff favourites this season. The Baggies have underpinned their playoff bid by strengthening their squad, particularly in attacking areas.

Former Middlesbrough target Jed Wallace has joined on a free transfer from Millwall, adding direct pace and trickery on the flanks. John Swift, Reading's top performer last season, strengthens their attacking threat from central midfield, particularly with his impressive shooting capabilities.

They have also added depth in deeper positions. Turkish international Okay Yokuslu has returned to the club following an impressive loan spell at the Baggies in 2021.

Jayson Molumby is the only player that has joined for a transfer fee, moving from Brighton for £900,000. The Ireland midfielder brings the variation in passing needed in a successful West Bromwich Albion side. However, cut from a similar cloth to Alex Mowatt, he may have to fight for his place in the side.

However, it has not all been plain sailing in the transfer window for West Brom. One of the clubs' starlets, Romaine Sawyers, has left the club on a free transfer to join Cardiff City. They have offset this loss with the signing of John Swift, who will be expected to fill the gap left by the 30-year-old, but he may need an adjustment period leaving them temporarily weaker in this position.

Meanwhile, first-choice goalkeeper, Sam Johnstone, has joined Premier League side Crystal Palace. West Bromwich Albion has yet to find a replacement for Johnstone in the transfer window. So instead, David Button will be expected to fill Johnstone's gloves for the Middlesbrough fixture.

Andy Carroll has also left the club after an impressive short-term stint. However, Dike will be expected to make up for losing the 33-year-old's goals on his return from injury. At the other end of the pitch, Cardiff City agreed to a loan deal for Kiprie after failing to make himself indispensable at West Brom.

James Morrison playing for West Bromwich Albion (Source: Wikipedia/Warwick Gastinger)

West Brom has built a reputation for playing a direct physical style of football, which is expected to continue under Steve Bruce. Maintaining this continuity will only strengthen their playoff bid as they can rely on tweaks and adjustments over a complete tactical overhaul.

Middlesbrough will also face some old friends when they line up this afternoon. Adam Reach, a Boro academy graduate and first-team player could be facing his boyhood club to kickstart his campaign. Meanwhile, former coach and caretaker manager Steve Agnew will be in the dugout accompanied by another former Boro academy graduate and first-team player James Morrison.

Giuliano Terraneo

The Director of Football is often an overlooked cog in the football machine; the seemingly voiceless man who runs all the footballing operations behind the scenes. Yet, they are integral to the success and failure of a club.

These men often provide continuity in the best sides, dictating and maintaining the clubs' style of play (finding managers that fit this mould) and transfer policy. Depending on the ownership model, the Director of Football is either the decision maker or the face of the club's ownership, actualising what they desire the club to become.

While performing as a technical consultant, Guiliano Terraneo has taken on these responsibilities without the power or responsibility of the coveted Director of Football role. However, despite not operating as a Director of Football, his recommendations have positioned him as an underrated operator in his field.

The hiring of Valerian Ismaël may not have worked out, but it did make sense on paper. Ismaël had proved himself a capable operator at Championship level with Barnsley while playing a similar style to West Brom. In a different reality, it is not hard to imagine things turning out better for the former Munich centre-back.

Terraneo would also have been a part of the continuing continuity after Ismaël's sacking with the decision to sign Steve Bruce as an intelligent one. Steve Bruce also aligns with the club's direct and physical style of play, but he arrives with an even more impressive CV.

The former goalkeeper would have also consulted on the club's transfer business, meaning he deserves his share of the praise for a successful window to date. The club has brought in considerable talent without breaking the bank by mainly operating in the free agent market.

Giuliano Terraneo's ties with the club will only be judged as a success or failure depending on how the side does on the pitch. However, taking a momentary glance over the club's operations indicates that Terraneo may be a name to keep an eye out for.

John Swift

One of the club's summer signings, John Swift, arrives at the Hawthorns with an impressive reputation. He was a shining light in an otherwise drab struggling Reading side, earning plaudits for his creative capabilities and his goalscoring threat in the final third. His offensive abilities culminated in an impressive 24-goal contributions across 38 games last season. A return that is even more outstanding when marked against Reading's 21st place finish.

However, this has been a tumultuous summer for Swift. He has left his home for the past six years to join West Brom, which could produce upheaval in his personal life.

On the pitch, he has undoubtedly moved to a better side, with no disrespect to Reading, which means that there will be less reliance on the midfielder. So, do not expect him to outdo his previous numbers; Reading's overreliance on Swift caused him to produce numbers that should not be expected out of someone in his role. Instead, his numbers may drop to realign with what can be expected from a player of his talents in a more balanced squad. This change in squad role will be quite an adaption for Swift. It may be an easy change for him, or it may take some adjustment, but West Bromwich Albion fans should be patient with their new attacking midfielder as they have an incredible talent.

Middlesbrough has struggled to deal with John Swift on previous occasions, so it will be interesting to discover which side wins the battle on this occasion.

Daryl Dike

West Bromwich Albion's big-money January signing had a less than ideal start to life with the Baggies as he suffered a hamstring injury just 22 days after signing on the dotted line. His absence would be hard felt as Ismaël struggled to find goals until his sacking. However, Ismaël's exit left the £7.77m signing in a difficult position. The manager who had been integral to his arrival at the club was no longer there, and he had barely kicked a ball for the club. However, he has since given a glowing report of Ismaël's replacement praising Steve Bruce's man-management, indicating that he is at a good place at the club.

Daryl Dike has returned to full fitness over the summer and his preseason performances indicate that he is close to his best. However, such a substantial injury can take its toll, and it may take a couple of weeks of competitive football for him to enter his stride. At his best, Dike bullies Championship defences which is no mean feat. In the box, he provides an aerial threat and a clinical eye for goal, birthing what could soon become one of the most clinical forwards in the league.

The USA international has made no secret about his desire to play in the Premier League, with him being fully invested in Albion's challenge for promotion this season. However, if he needs further motivation, Dike wants to challenge for a spot in USA's World Cup squad. So naturally, Dike will have to hit the ground running to do so, and there's no better start than the first game of the season.

Impressively, Dike also hopes to add a second first-class degree to his CV this season showing him to be an intelligent professional both on and off the pitch.

At 22 years old, Dike is still in the development phase of his career, making the future of Dike all the more exciting or scary.

Prediction: Middlesbrough 2-1 West Bromwich Albion

It is notoriously difficult to predict the first game of the season. Both sides have had problems going forwards, and one of these teams is closer to solving these issues than the other. However, West Bromwich Albion may be as vulnerable as they will be all season coming into the campaign's opener. Daryl Dike is returning for his first competitive game since January and may find it difficult to hit the ground running. While summer marquee signing, John Swift, may need time to adjust to his new side along with flanker Jed Wallace.

Despite being further behind in their attacking development, Middlesbrough has more continuity in their front line from last season, likely starting with Duncan Watmore and Riley McGree, potentially giving them a temporary edge in this one.

West Brom will always be dangerous, and it is a challenging game, but Middlesbrough may have enough to spring a result over the Baggies this time out.

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