West Brom V Southampton at The Hawthorns : Match Preview

16 August 2013 06:33
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Clarke thinks Baggies will improve

West Brom boss Steve Clarke has been reluctant to talk about specific targets ahead of the new campaign but is optimistic his team can be even "better and stronger" than they were in his impressive first season in charge.

Clarke took over as Albion head coach in June 2012 and the club continued on the upward trajectory they had been on for the past few years, securing an eighth-placed finish last term.

As the 49-year-old is concerned, he is heading into the new campaign enhanced by the lessons of last season and full of belief that his team can improve again.

"I'm not sure I understand second season syndrome - it is another phrase the media uses," Clarke said at a press conference to preview West Brom's campaign-opening league clash with Southampton at The Hawthorns.

"For me, this is about trying to emulate what we did last season - to be a team that is positive and tries to win football matches.

"The more we can win, the more points we will get and with that follows the success for the club. That is all you can do.

"I don't sit here and worry about the fact it is the second season. I have learned some lessons from last year and hopefully I can put them into practice this year and you'll see a better and stronger West Bromwich Albion."

Clarke's new additions this summer are strikers Nicolas Anelka and Matej Vydra and defender Diego Lugano, and he hopes to bring in two or three more players, including Manchester City winger Scott Sinclair.

Asked about specific league targets, Clarke said: "I think it is always dangerous to set targets too early.

"The first target is to try to win on Saturday. I know it is boring, but that is the only way it can be."

Anelka, scorer of seven pre-season goals for Albion since joining in July, is set to make his competitive debut while Vydra and Lugano could also be involved.

Wantaway frontman Peter Odemwingie has trained apart from the first-team this summer and seems certain not to get a look in, while midfielders Zoltan Gera and George Thorne (both knee) are not yet ready for selection after their injuries.

Midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin believes the new season will see an improvement in Southampton's play as manager Mauricio Pochettino has been able to establish his own blueprint for success during pre-season.

Pochettino replaced Nigel Adkins as manager at St Mary's in January and won plaudits for theattacking style of play he introduced as he guided Saints to a 14th-placed finish on their return to the Barclays Premier League.

But former France Under-21 international Schneiderlin feels a whole summer on the south coast has allowed Pochettino to fully introduce his own footballing philosophy in to the squad.

"It is a massive thing," he said. "Last year we changed the way we played straightaway but we couldn't really work on the special things because we didn't really have time to do it.

"This year we have had two months to know exactly what he wanted from us and to work on the specific things and now I think we are going to be better with and without the ball."

The coming campaign brings great optimism amongst everyone involved with Saints as heavy summer investment in defender Dejan Lovren and midfielder Victor Wanyama means striving for a better finish by May should be more achievable.

"I can't say a target - we want to finish as high as possible," Schneiderlin said.

"The first couple of games are going to give us a good idea of what we can do and we want to take it game by game and finish as high as possible."

Pochettino could be without two of his first-choice full-backs for the trip.

Both Nathaniel Clyne and Luke Shaw are struggling with knocks picked up in the latter stages of pre-season but could yet feature. Shaw (knee) is the most likely of the two youngsters to be involved with Clyne still recovering from a problem he picked up in Austria.

Source: PA