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Comment: Should West Brom have released Gareth McAuley and Claudio Yacob?

By Matt Wilson | West Bromwich Albion | Published:

Gareth McAuley and Claudio Yacob have now both found clubs since being released by Albion.

Eyebrows were raised when the pair were let go, because it’s hard to think of two more committed Baggies from the last few years.

McAuley was a rock at the heart of Albion’s backline for six years, and it is no coincidence that defence started to look shaky once he was left out.

Yacob was a reliable fighter in defensive midfield for roughly the same period. It’s hard to think of two better free signings in recent history.

Both have found good moves since, with McAuley heading north to realise his dream and play for his boyhood club Rangers, and Yacob signing a two-year deal at Championship rivals Nottingham Forest.

And with Albion looking at free agents in both midfield and defence during the international break, the question is, did they make a mistake letting them go?

In many ways, it will be difficult to tell, because we are dealing in hypothetical.

Yacob’s form this season will give some indication but the Scottish Premiership is not the same standard as the Championship.

However, what is obvious is the new style of play Darren Moore is attempting to instil at the club.

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Albion are intent on passing the ball out from the back and building their patterns of play on the deck.

In their heydays, few could rival McAuley and Yacob out of possession, but they were not necessarily the best passers of the ball.

Gareth McAuley has signed for boyhood club Rangers. Photo: Rangers FC

McAuley was superb defensively, both in the air and on the deck, and his positioning was brilliant.

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But the Northern Irishman was prone to a clip up towards the striker and struggled when put under the sort of pressure Moore’s system invites.

Yacob is great at breaking up play, but not so good at moving the ball forward himself.

Chris Brunt may not be a traditional central midfielder, and he has struggled at times this season with players drifting past him, players that may not have got past Yacob.

But against Stoke we saw why Moore is playing his skipper in that position, to be calm on the ball and move it forward with precision.

When he joined Forest, Yacob said: “I try to provide balance for the team, tactically, to give the attacking players the opportunity to go forward knowing that I will be behind them.”

The concern is that there will be times this season when Albion might need someone of Yacob’s calibre to bring on and break up play when games are going against them and the opposition is on top.

Claudio Yacob has joined Nottingham Forest. Photo: NFFC

At the moment, the closest players they have capable of playing that destroyer role are Jake Livermore, Gareth Barry – who is an underrated interceptor – and maybe Sam Field.

Yacob is still in his early 30s and the two-year deal Forest have handed him suggests they have faith in his longevity.

McAuley, on the other hand, turns 39 in December, and even though he is a fitness freak who Tony Pulis claimed would go on into his 40s, he did struggle with the pace of the Premier League last season.

Would he have fared better in the Championship? We will probably never know, but John Terry’s successful exploits with rivals Aston Villa last season suggests it is capable to step down a division in your late 30s.

However, it’s worth remembering the progress Albion have made since Moore took over the hot-seat.

When he was put in charge, the Baggies had just lost nine games in a row and had one league win from the previous 30.

Moore has overseen 14 competitive fixtures since then, the first of his career, lest we forget. Albion have won eight, drawn three and lost three.

More recently, he’s won three out of four in the league, scoring 13 goals along the way.

He has done this with a new style of play which leans heavily on passing out from the back. Would McAuley and Yacob have fitted into it? Perhaps not.

Matt Wilson

By Matt Wilson
Football MMPJ - @mattwilson_star

Sports reporter at the Express & Star, who primarily covers West Bromwich Albion.

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