Saturday 18th November, The Hawthorns – After an eventful international break, Chelsea FC returned to EPL football, away to West Bromwich Albion.
Their hosts were in the middle of a winless run stretching all the way back to August. They’d followed up their three opening wins against Bournemouth, Burnley and Accrington Stanley (that last in the League Cup), with four draws and six losses in all competitions. Their fans were understandably aggravated, and rumours were swirling that manager Tony Pulis might get the sack.
Chelsea on the other hand had been in relatively good form recently – at least in the premier league. Yet this fixture screamed out BANANA SKIN. The last time they’d faced a struggling team after an international break, Chelsea had been well beaten. In fact Antonio Conte referenced that particular loss to Crystal Palace in comments before the game, highlighting how important it was for his players to bank the points against teams in the relegation zone.
Local rivals Arsenal had also beaten Tottenham Hotspur 2 – 0 earlier that day, and were now fifth in the table, level on points with Chelsea. Arsene Wenger had sent his neighbours a clear message with the win, and the Champions were under pressure to respond.
A number of Chelsea players had picked up knocks during the break, but all except Michy Batshuayi and Charly Musonda had recovered in time for this game. Victor Moses also remained out with a muscular injury. For their part West Brom were missing Craig Dawson, James Morrison and Nacer Chadli, but Oliver Burke was on the bench, having recovered from a hamstring injury.
Line-Ups & Ratings
West Bromwich Albion
Foster 5, Gibbs 5, Hegazy 4.5, Evans 5.5, McAuley 5, Phillips 6.5 (McClean 6), Barry 5.5, Livermore 6, Krychowiak 5 (Yacob 4), Rondon 6.5, Rodriguez 6 (Burke 5)
Subs Myhill, Brunt, Nyom, Yacob, McClean, Burke, Robson-Kanu
Courtois 7, Zappacosta 7, Azpilicueta 7, Christensen 8, Cahill 7, Alonso 8, Kante 8 (Willian 6.5), Fabregas 8.5 (Drinkwater 7), Bakayoko 7, Hazard 9 (Pedro 6.5), Morata 8.5
Subs Caballero, Rudiger, Luiz, Drinkwater, Ampadu, Pedro, Willian
Could Have Been The Opener (But It Wasn’t)
Perhaps seeking to stifle, Tony Pulis started three defensive midfielders at the heart of a 3-5-2 line-up for this game. Chelsea fielded the same players, and the same 3-5-2 formation as their previous game against Manchester United. Functionally though, they operated more as a 3-1-4-1-1, with N’golo Kante and Eden Hazard in free roles at the base and tip respectively of a midfield diamond.
Chelsea were somewhat tentative at the start of the game, and West Brom, after sitting back initially, pushed onto them. They had the better opening chances, with Jake Livermore dribbling past Gary Cahill, then passing to Matt Phillips who flashed a cross past Thibaut Courtois’ goal. Then in the next move, Phillips crossed again for Jay Rodriguez, but his header lacked power and Courtois held it.
West Brom were growing in confidence now, and a minute later Phillips dummied Alonso and made yet another cross, this time to Salomon Rondon. Rondon’s header actually squirmed past Courtois and over the line, but the ref ruled it out – the striker had been marginally offside.
Chelsea rode out the early pressure, and eventually struck back less than twenty minutes in. Eden Hazard had received some rough treatment from West Brom earlier on, and he seemed determined to teach them a lesson. He escaped Gareth Barry in midfield, drifted wide of Ahmed Hegazy, then took a shot from the edge of the area. Ben Foster managed to parry it, but Morata got to the rebound and hooked the ball from an acute angle – 1 – 0.
Having been assisted by Hazard on the first goal, six minutes later Morata turned provider for the second. Cesc Fabregas passed up to Morata from midfield, but rather than holding it up, Morata back-heeled the ball into Hazard’s path. Hazard ran onto the ball, drifted it left past Foster, then put it into the empty net for 2 – 0. It was the kind of smooth-flowing, one-touch football Chelsea sometimes play under Antonio Conte. Honestly, it was a joy to watch.
Then on 38 minutes, Chelsea’s Spanish connection struck again for the third. You’d be forgiven for assuming it was an Azpilicueta cross for a Morata finish, but this time it was their other two Spanish players combining.
Ahmed Hegazy was penalized for physically hefting Morata like a suitcase just left of the penalty box. Fabregas took the free kick, delivering a pinpoint cross to the far post, where Marcos Alonso was waiting to volley past a defenceless Foster into the roof of the net. The goal made one wonder just how much practice Chelsea put into their dead ball routines. They score so many goals from crosses and set pieces these days!
A More Selfish Hazard
West Brom were extremely aggressive at the start of the second half, and Chelsea had to endure another heavy spell of pressure. Similar to the first though they endured it without conceding, and eventually, on 62 minutes Hazard shut the game down.
West Brom’s midfielders stood off Cesc Fabregas on the halfway line and paid the penalty – he sent in one of his specials, a long ball over the top for Eden Hazard. Hazard took delivery, dribbled inside past Hegazy, looked up, spotted Morata in position to finish… but went for it himself. His shot curled into the bottom corner for 4 – 0 – the goalkeeper didn’t even bother to attempt a save.
West Brom defended very poorly this game – or maybe Chelsea played so well they made it look that way. Either way, Antonio Conte and his players turned another tricky away fixture into a routine win.
David Luiz was an unused substitute, and frankly his team didn’t need him – at least not for this opposition. Andreas Christensen turned in a composed, professional performance at the heart of defence. N’golo Kante ensured the opposition strikers never got up to much. Fabregas orchestrated attack after attack, and Morata and Hazard… were the players you expect them to be.
Final Score West Bromwich Albion 0 – 4 Chelsea
Thumbnail image courtesy of: ESPN FC
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