The Hawthorns

Next Game

W Brom v Man City

Saturday, 08 August 2015, 15:00

Barclays Prem

Pressure on Anelka

Nicolas Anelka is running out of time to show his worth at West Brom, writes Adam Bate.

Last Updated: 31/10/13 at 13:29

There was plenty of excitement in the Black Country when West Bromwich Albion announced the signing of Nicolas Anelka in the summer. A little scepticism, but plenty of excitement. "There is no downside with Nicolas," said Baggies boss Steve Clarke, who had worked with the striker at Chelsea. "I find him to be a very engaging character, a very good person and he has been great in the group here. He has come in and settled well. He is already a favourite among the players."

There is no doubting Anelka's status within the game. There have been Premier League titles and FA Cup triumphs with both Arsenal and Chelsea, as well as Champions League success with Real Madrid. He was also the Premier League top scorer ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo in the 2008/09 season and has developed an increasingly unselfish side to his game over the years. His new team-mates at the Hawthorns were undoubtedly excited to be working with him.

"You can see what a class act Nico is," said right-back Billy Jones during pre-season. "How clever he is on the ball and how well balanced he is." Fellow defender Gareth McAuley agreed. "It gives everyone a lift, especially all the young players, to see someone of his level, who is still as sharp and hungry," added the Northern Ireland international. "It's a great signing."

There were difficulties early on with erroneous reports he had quit the club. It emerged that Anelka was in fact traumatised by the death of a close friend and returned to the team for the Swansea game the following week, putting in a commendable performance. However, Clarke now faces a conundrum that may linger rather longer. What if his highly-paid star name is no longer worthy of a place in the team?

PL strikers - Big chances
PlayerClubGoalsBig chances missed
Nicolas AnelkaWest Brom05
Christian BentekeAston Villa45
Fraizer CampbellCardiff25
Jonathan WaltersStoke05
Sergio AgueroMan City74
Wilfried BonySwansea24
Papiss CisseNewcastle04
Daniel SturridgeLiverpool84

Seven matches into his Albion career, Anelka has no goals and no assists. It's not been due to a lack of service either. The Frenchman has wasted no fewer than five of what Opta classifies as 'big chances' so far this season. Only one other top-fight player, Stoke City's Jonathan Walters, has spurned so many clear-cut opportunities without finding the net.

Some were costly too. While his failure to beat Martin Skrtel on the goal-line against Liverpool last weekend is unlikely to have changed the outcome of that game, two poor misses against another of his former clubs, Arsenal, did prove significant. After getting a Saido Berahino cross caught under his feet when clean through, Anelka fired wide when one-on-one with Wojciech Szczesny early in the second half. A goal would've put his side 2-0 up. Instead, they had to settle for a draw.

Nicolas Anelka has fired off a number of shots this season but is yet to find the net for West Brom

Unfortunately for Anelka, it is difficult to argue that he is creating opportunities for others either. His 498 minutes of action have produced just four chances, a record that compares unfavourably to his rival forwards at the Hawthorns. Victor Anichebe and Shane Long have each received less game time than Anelka but both have created more chances - taking under an hour to fashion openings, while the veteran has required over two hours on the pitch for each of his.

And still Clarke struggles to accommodate his star name. For the team's most recent fixture at Anfield, he opted to shift Anichebe to the left wing in order to play Anelka as the lone forward. Although it is a role the former Everton target man has fulfilled before, Clarke was forced to admit after the game that the ploy may need to be reassessed.

That could mean further attempts to play Anelka in the slightly more withdrawn role he has occupied at times this season. However, this only raises further questions regarding fellow new signing Stephane Sessegnon and the man who so impressed in the No.10 role last season, James Morrison. Despite receiving more minutes than any of these team-mates, it seems Anelka could be the least attractive option.

West Brom - Forwards
PlayerChances createdMinutes per chance
Morgan Amalfitano1726
Markus Rosenberg245
Victor Anichebe750
Shane Long652
Stephane Sessegnon673
Saido Berahino386
Nicolas Anelka4125

Results appear to bear this out. The team seems to function better without him. The two Premier League matches that Anelka has missed this season have coincided with arguably the side's most impressive performances - a creditable draw at Everton and that astonishing victory against Manchester United at Old Trafford. Even the 3-0 win over Sunderland saw two of the goals scored following Anelka's substitution.

Good strikers will keep getting in good positions and if they keep getting in good positions, the goals will come.
Steve Clarke

Have any remaining embers of the talent that burned so brightly finally been extinguished? Team-mates still talk of the ferocious pace shown on the training ground. But it has been too long since matchday audiences saw any evidence. The 34-year-old played just 45 minutes of football during a four-month stint at Juventus and prior to that there was his lucrative year in China with Shanghai Shenhua. Even his final season with Chelsea yielded just a solitary goal from 15 appearances.

And yet, Clarke's faith remains. "Good strikers will keep getting in good positions and if they keep getting in good positions, the goals will come," he told reports in October. "That's got to be the mantra for any striker. They have got to keep getting into good positions. Victor's back, Saido's playing well, there's Nicolas, Matej Vydra is available, Markus Rosenberg is there, I've got loads of options up front. It's a good problem to have."

It's a good problem for Steve Clarke. But for Nicolas Anelka, it is likely to mean that unless he produces more purposeful performances soon, the biggest name at West Bromwich Albion will find those first-team opportunities becoming rather limited.

Related News

Most Commented

Readers' Comments


on't go to England at your age, you'll either be mugged or not appreciated. Or made to lump the ball long to a bloke who looks like a mascot.

megabrow (cufc)
Beckenbauer warns Schweinsteiger


rom the headline I presumed he meant boots, pants, jim-jams, toothbrush and paste, passport, tickets, premier inn long-term package, Scouse-English-Portuguese-German dictionary, 'How to be a 9 and 3/4' by B. Rodgers, few dozen tins of food and Evian because you can never be sure about the local food/water...

Firmino has 'everything' for PL - Willian


e looked like he was playing with a plastic pound shop ball in the wind against Juve, his passing was so bad.

Sergio Ramos: Exactly What United Need

Footer 365

Dani Osvaldo leaves Southampton two years early

Southampton have terminated the contract of record signing Dani Osvaldo.

Slaven Bilic missing from West Ham bench for Europa League opener

Academy manager Terry Westley will be in charge when West Ham make their Europa League debut against Andorran side FC Lusitans.

Matej Vydra joins Watford on five-year deal after two loan spells

Striker Matej Vydra is back with Watford, this time on a permanent basis after signing a five-year deal to join the club from Udinese.

Mail Box

Are United Aiming Too High On Transfers?

One mailer wonders whether United are aiming a little high on their transfer ambitions. Plus, BAHs, West Ham in Europe, petty annoyances and Michu to United...

Liverpool Are Attractive To Strikers

You've got little competition and bags of service from midfield, so surely strikers would love to join Liverpool? Plus England's future, Callum Wilson handshakes and...

© 2015 Sky Ltd. All Rights Reserved A Sky Sports Digital Media company