By, Ayodeji Itasanmi (Twitter: @aryhorblueblood)
The Hawthorns/November 18, 2017
Thankfully we’ve seen the last of the international breaks for the year 2017 which means we can now finally focus all of our attentions on club football until the next international break comes around in March. We’re back in Premier League action this weekend as we head to the Hawthorns to take on Tony Pulis’ men who are on a free fall after failing to win any of their last 12 matches in all competitions but that’s not to say this is going to be a cake walk because playing against any team in the Premier League, regardless of form and position on the table, is anything but. The trip to the Hawthorns surely brings back fond memories as it was on that ground that we were confirmed Premier League champions for the fifth time after Michy Batshuayi’s late goal sealed the deal.
West Brom and Chelsea have faced off quite a lot since our first encounter back in September 1905 in the Old Second Division just months after Chelsea Football Club was founded. We have faced West Bromwich Albion a combined 137 times with Chelsea edging the head to head with 60 victories against West Brom’s 42 with 35 draws in between. The last time we faced West Brom outside the Premier League (or Premiership as it was once known) was as far back as January 1997 in an FA Cup match that Chelsea won comfortably by 3 goals to nil thanks to goals from Dennis Wise, Craig Burley and Gianfranco Zola. Since that FA Cup match, we’ve faced West Brom on 22 times in the Premier League with Chelsea winning a large chunk of those matches. As a matter of fact Chelsea won the first 11 matches against West Brom in the Premier League with West Brom’s first victory against Chelsea coming in a 1-0 victory in March 2012 in a match that ultimately proved to be Portuguese Andreas Villas Boas’ last as Chelsea manager. Overall in the Premier League Chelsea have only lost three times against West Brom (W16 D3) and we have only failed to score against a West Brom team in the Premier League just once in March 2012. On paper this looks like a straight forward victory for the Blues but as we’ve found more often in the Premier League it’s the team that shows up on the day that carries the day and I hope that is Chelsea on Saturday.
Eden Hazard again picked up a ‘minor’ knock while on international duty for Belgium but hopefully it wasn’t too serious as to keep him out of the game at the weekend because now isn’t the time to lose him, or anyone of our players for that matter, considering the number of matches we’ll be facing between now and the end the of the year. Michy Batshuayi also got sent back from international duty early because of a muscular injury, hopefully he isn’t sidelined for too long with Alvaro Morata, who only just returned from injury himself, our only fit recognized striker. According to reports, both David Luiz and Tiemoue Bakayoko are also carrying knocks but both should be in contention for a place in the team on Saturday having had two weeks to rest. N’Golo Kante was left out of the France squad for the latest international break having only just recovered from the hamstring strain he picked up during the previous international break and the rest afforded by the international break for sure would have done him some good and should be ready to go again by Saturday. Danny Drinkwater declined a call from Gareth Southgate for their friendlies against Germany and Brazil so as to focus on his fitness at Chelsea and hopefully be in with a chance to be on the plane to Russia next summer. Victor Moses is back training with the first team again but the game at the weekend might come too soon for him and if that’s the case Antonio Conte knows he can call on either Cesar Azpilicueta or Davide Zappacosta, both of whom have shown themselves capable of filling the vacuum left by the Nigerian. Andreas Christensen showed against Manchester United last time out that he’s more than ready to ruffle feathers with the big boys in the team with a confident and assured display and should be in confident mood going into the weekend having just helped his country Denmark qualify for the world cup at the expense of Republic of Ireland with him having a big hand in their first goal. Gary Cahill sat out both England’s friendlies even though he was fit for both hence he should also be fresh for the match at the weekend. After the way he started life under Antonio Conte, Cesc Fabregas deserves a massive pat on the back for how he managed to play his way into the coach’s plan and become an important plan of the team, a fact underlined by his man-of –the-match showing against Mourinho’s United before the international break and should continue at the weekend if he gets the nod to play. Alvaro Morata played and scored for Spain over the weekend and should be in high spirit for the weekend. Both Willian and Pedro have been used sparingly by Conte of late which means they will both be fresh should the gaffer decide to call on them.
Courtois; Rudiger, Christensen, Cahill; Azpilicueta, Bakayoko, Kante, Alonso; Hazard, Fabregas; Morata
Last Five Matches: WLWWW
Injuries: Victor Moses (Hamstring) –Doubt; David Luiz (Knock) –Doubt;
Tony Pulis is certainly not having the best of times with the Baggies faithful with the team continuing to slip down the table. After winning two of their first three Premier League matches they have failed to win any of their next eight which is a reason for concern from the club fans and the board alike and as if that isn’t enough the fixture list sends the defending champions their way at the weekend. This isn’t the best of times for them but if anyone can mastermind a turnaround it’s Pulis and I’m sure he’s already planning on how to start turning the tide for his team starting with the visit of the champions at the weekend. Tony Pulis likes to set his team up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, when he’s not looking to stifle the opposition by playing seven or eight defenders like he did at Stamford Bridge last season, with Jonny Evans and Ahmed Hegazi his preferred central defensive pairing when the two are fit to play. Former Gunners’ player Kieran Gibbs on the left and Craig Dawson on the right completes the defense but with Dawson sidelined Cameroonian Allan Nyom is an option at right full back or wing back if Pulis decides to continue with the 3-5-2 formation he used at the John Smith Stadium against Huddersfield. In his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation, both Gareth Barry and Gregory Krychowiak anchors the midfield but against Huddersfield they were joined by Jake Livermore in a 3-man midfield which is likely going to be the case on Saturday with the trio of Jonny Evans, Gareth McAuley and Ahmed Hegazi lining up in central defense. In attack, Pulis has the luxury of choosing from three physically capable strikers with Jay Rodriguez, Hal Robson-Kanu and Salomon Rondon. Both Nacer Chadli and Matt Phillips are also options on the wings with their pace and trickery coming in handy. Whatever formation Pulis decides on it’s going to be a very physical team that takes to the pitch against Chelsea on Saturday.
Foster; Nyom, Hegazi, Evans, Gibbs; Krychowiak, Barry, Livermore, Chadli, Phillips; Rodriguez.
Last 5 matches: LLLDD
Injuries: Craig Dawson (Knee) – Out;
Alvaro Morata vs. Jonny Evans
Alvaro Morata will be hoping to add to his goal tally on Saturday but in Jonny Evans he will be facing a very tough customer and an experience Premier League campaigner but, the Spaniard’s pace and trickery might just give him the edge against the Northern Irishman.
Eden Hazard vs. Allan Nyom
If the Manchester United match is an indication then Hazard may be in for a torrid afternoon at the Hawthorns. The Cameroonian committed nothing less than a dozen fouls himself when they visited Stamford Bridge last season but hopefully he will be a lighter mood on Saturday because Eden Hazard is important to our season.
Marcos Alonso vs. Matt Phillips
Marcos Alonso’s performance has dropped tremendously from the standard he set for himself last season but he has to be on his A game if he’s to have any chance against the speedy Matt Phillips, who isn’t living up to expectations himself.
Tony Pulis’ team has not won any of their last nine games in all competitions (L6 D3) coming into this weekend’s fixture while the Blues has only lost just one of their last six matches (W4 D1) but in the Premier League form is usually thrown out the window and it’s usually the team that shows up on the day that come away with the points, as our match against Crystal Palace taught us. The London club had lost all four their seven Premier League matches prior to their meeting with Chelsea without scoring a single but they still went away with all three points on offer thanks 2-1 victory. So it’s my hope that on Saturday we’ll stand up to be counted and claim the points as we prepare for what’s going to be an hectic end to the year. Good luck on Saturday and remember to Keep The Blue Flag Flying High!
Thumbnail image courtesy of: Sky Sports
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