West Bromwich Albion v Manchester United: Pepe Mel looking for plot changes to turn round ‘soap opera’

 

The Manchester United manager, David Moyes, is not the only one desperate for a restorative result at The Hawthorns.

Pepe Mel, his West Bromwich Albion counterpart, has arguably an even greater need. It is 58 days since the Spaniard’s appointment as Steve Clarke’s successor and the former Real Betis coach is still seeking a first win.

There have been moral victories – 1-1 home draws with Everton, Liverpool and Chelsea – but Albion start the weekend in 17th place in the Premier League, a single point above Sunderland, who have a game in hand. It is all a far cry from the last time United visited the Black Country last May for that remarkable 5-5 draw in Sir Alex Ferguson’s farewell game. Then Albion were celebrating an eighth-place finish – their highest in the Premier League era – and the future looked equally bright in September when they won at Old Trafford for the first time since 1978.

Few would have predicted then the downward spiral that followed. Clarke was sacked in December, Mel arrived a month later, yet they have just one win from their last 18 fixtures and midfielder James Morrison could be forgiven for describing the club as a “soap opera” while on Scotland duty this week.

“What Morrison means is I am the third coach this season [including caretaker Keith Downing] and that is not a nice situation for the players,” said Mel yesterday.

Albion’s problems can be traced back to this very week last year when Dan Ashworth, the club’s long-serving sporting and technical director, left for his post as the Football Association’s director of elite development. Under Ashworth, Albion had established a fruitful recruitment policy which yielded bargain signings such as Gareth McAuley, Youssouf Mulumbu and Claudio Yacob; last summer, under his successor Richard Garlick, their transfer business proved considerably less successful. The subsequent January sale of Shane Long to Hull City looks particularly baffling and means that, with Peter Odemwingie and Romelu Lukaku already departed, Albion have lost their three top scorers from last term. Their lack of goals has contributed to a division-high 13 draws and just four wins. 

The loss of Nicolas Anelka, suspended over his “quenelle” goal celebration, has hardly helped and the plot has thickened in the past fortnight.

On a training trip to Spain, Albion’s senior players confronted Mel to express their misgivings over the high-tempo football he is asking them to adopt. On top of that, Dave McDonough, the director of technical performance and scouting, has left the club. The Spanish-speaking McDonough had become increasingly influential in transfers and was prominent in Mel’s appointment, so his departure is hardly the best news for the manager. “No” was Mel’s one-word reply when asked if he had been consulted about it. 

The club responded to rumours about Mel’s own future in the wake of the 1-1 home draw with Fulham by stressing there had been “constructive” talks and painting a united front. However, when asked yesterday if he had received assurances, the 51-year-old offered a vague response: “For me the only thing that matters is the day-to-day and working today for tomorrow. I am not looking further than tomorrow.”

Mel, who should have record signing Stéphane Sessègnon available today for the first time, was watching on TV when Albion won at United five months ago and has pointed out to his players the importance of “their high pressing” that afternoon – just what he has been trying to instill.

His willingness to tweak his style to suit a team built to counter-attack – “they are little details,” he said – need not be a sign of weakness but he knows he has a job on his hands. “I have only been here six weeks and I want to change the style of play of a team who have been playing many years in a different way,” he said. “In reality it is not a big thing. The important thing is they want to win and so do I.” And, for Mel’s sake, the sooner the better.

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Life and Style
tech

Apple has been hit by complaints about the 1.1GB download

Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC
tv

Much-loved cartoon character returns - without Sir David Jason

Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff
tv

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Arts and Entertainment
tv

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife
film

Matt Smith is set to join cast of the Jane Austen classic - with a twist

Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmWhat makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me
tv

Actress to appear in second series of the hugely popular crime drama

Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
Life and Style
i100

Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week