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Back four statistics add up for West Brom boss Steve Bruce

Boss Steve Bruce has crunched the numbers and they add weight to Albion’s switch to a back four for the new season.

Steve Bruce believes a back four is suited to players like Darnell Furlong, who he sees as a traditional full-back
Steve Bruce believes a back four is suited to players like Darnell Furlong, who he sees as a traditional full-back

A considerable portion of the Championship – 80 per cent, according to the Baggies boss – played with a back three last term.

But the two automatic promotion winners, Fulham and Bournemouth, utilised a four-man defence.

Manchester City and Liverpool, the two dominant Premier League forces in recent years, also play a back four.

A change of shape has been on the manager’s mind since his February appointment. It came too early, as Bruce moved away from Valerien Ismael’s back three, but the new boss lost four of his first five games in charge.Bruce reverted and form improved, but only enough for a 10th-placed finish.

The manager has been looking at ways to make his side’s approach ‘different’ with the first-team squad they possess. More pertinently, Albion’s full-backs – Darnell Furlong and Conor Townsend – are naturally just that, full-backs. Bruce also believes a 4-2-3-1 formation provides a platform for his squad’s wide players, Jed Wallace and Grady Diangana and versatile options such as Matt Phillips and Karlan Grant, to be at their most dangerous.

“Eighty per cent of the Championship last year was a back three – the two teams that went up were a back four,” explained Bruce, whose side are back in action on Monday.

“The two teams that won the Premier League (in recent years) were a back four. Whether that’s a (telling) statistic, I don’t know.

“We’re wary of it, I’m aware of it. We could’ve been a back three but I wanted to be different. I thought the only way to be different was to change the formation.

“The wing-backs we’ve got are full-backs, in my opinion, and we’ve got really decent wide players, I think that’s where our strength is.

“It lends itself to a back four, that’s why we changed.”

Bruce has openly admitted last season’s immediate tweaks can too soon. He said: “To start with, in hindsight, I tried to implement change too quickly. I should’ve known better, however, I’ll live with that. I blame myself for the first five or six games. If we had have been just average we’d have been there or thereabouts, but I tried to change us too quickly and it didn’t work.”

Bruce spoke about his previous use of different systems, but believes an attacking quartet, involving two of the summer’s key signings Jed Wallace and John Swift, can be key to an improvement in front of goal.

“I used a back three when I went to Crystal Palace and we were top of the league with a three,” the manager said. “But we had wing-backs who could create. I’m not being disrespectful to what we’ve got here, but if you ask Furlong and Townsend, for me they’re full-backs. The ones who are successful, if you want to be at the top end of the division, look at Middlesbrough and what they’ve got – their wing-backs can go and attack and create, one scored last week and the other created it.

“I think that’s key to it, but as I said the two teams that got promoted played a back four, the two teams that went head-to-head in the Premier League played a back four.

“I’m not against a back three at all, it’s something which I looked at, and thought with what we’ve got, what we’re bringing in, how do we score?

“We have to score more.”

n Albion starlet Reyes Cleary has signed a new two-year contract. The highly-rated 18-year-old striker has extended his stay at The Hawthorns until 2024 after an impressive goalscoring campaign in the youth set-up last term.

Cleary, who only turned 18 in April, is one of the star products of the current Baggies academy and according to reports has been in-demand both domestically and abroad this summer.

But Cleary, whose scholarship deal ran until December this year, has penned professional terms as he continues his eye-catching progression.

The teenager netted 35 goals last season during involvement with various youth sides, scoring at a regular rate for the club’s under-18s and likewise with the under-23s, who went on claim the PL2 Cup over Wolves.

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