By, Ayodeji Itasanmi (Twitter: @aryhorblueblood)
Stamford Bridge/February 12, 2018
Since I started writing previews of Chelsea matches on this site, I haven’t had cause to write about the prospect of Chelsea losing three consecutive Premier League matches because one thing the team did pretty well under the Italian last season was bounce back from setbacks quickly. The only time we faced that prospect was when we lost back to back Premier League games to Liverpool and Arsenal in September 2016 but Hull City were easily dispatched at the KCOM Stadium in the very next match which was also the first of thirteen straight league victories en route to winning the Premier League last season. Chelsea are in fifth courtesy of the Spurs-Arsenal result yesterday while West Brom began the weekend bottom of the league and could be as much as seven points from safety by the time this match kicks off at Stamford Bridge if the trio of Stoke City, Swansea City and Huddersfield Town all win their home matches respectively. With speculations about his future gathering momentum Antonio Conte will know more than anybody how important three points on Monday will be to the security of his job in the long term.
Chelsea has amassed a total of 61 wins in all competitions against the Baggies and Chelsea has won the last three matches without conceding a goal while scoring six goals. The first and second time West Brom got the better of Chelsea in the Premier League both Andre Villas Boas and Robbie Di Matteo lost their jobs both in 2012 so Antonio Conte should be wary of the threat carried by the Baggies. West Brom has never left Stamford Bridge with all three points before and the last time they won a match at SW6 was in November 1983. The last time West Brom got the better of Chelsea in the Premier League was in May 2015 after we’ve secured the title a few days prior. West Brom has managed just two draws in their last ten visits to Stamford Bridge (L8). And more worrisome for Alan Pardew is the fact that his team may be seven points off in the battle for survival by the time this match kicks off depending on other results this weekend. Alan Pardew’s record against Chelsea might come into play as well in this match. While Pardew managed just one point in his first seven matches against Chelsea, he has amassed a 50% win rate in his last ten matches against the Blues hence he’ll be coming into this match very high on confidence irrespective of his current team’s position on the table. West Brom has just one win from their last 24 matches in the league (L12 D11) and that one win came against Brighton & Hove Albion last month and that’s not the kind of form they would want to take to Stamford Bridge with Chelsea on a mini dip in form themselves.
Antonio Conte decided to give his squad three days off after the shambolic performance at Vicarage Road on Monday in the hope that the rest would have renewed the vigour ahead of the visit of West Bromwich Albion to Stamford Bridge on Monday. Tiemoue Bakayoko is suspended after his sending off at Vicarage Road and one of Ross Barkley, who’s back available after missing the trip to Vicarage Road with a slight hamstring injury, Cesc Fabregas and Danny Drinkwater is likely to replace him depending on the tactics Conte chooses to employ. With Antonio Conte confirming that Alvaro Morata is out of this clash, Olivier Giroud may finally get the chance to adorn the Blues jersey of Chelsea in front of the Stamford Bridge faithfuls and hopefully from the start as I don’t think we can endure another match without a recognized striker from the start given how the last two matches had panned out. Marcos Alonso should be fit enough to return to the starting lineup after missing the trip to Vicarage Road last time out with a minor strain. With a more physically strong striker leading the line Antonio Conte might revert back to the 3-5-2 formation for this match. Willian got sacrificed at Vicarage Road after Bakayoko’s red card but I doubt that decision had nothing to do with his performance on the night but rather his fitness and it’s yet to be seen if he’s fit enough to make the match day squad on Monday. Pedro too will be in line for a return to the team after he hobbled off late into the game on Vicarage Road. Antonio Rudiger may also be recalled up on with his pace likely to come in handy with the Baggies likely to play on the counter attack. Andreas Christensen is also in line for a return having returned to first team training this week after sustaining a hamstring injury in the defeat to Bournemouth. Perhaps we might also get a chance to see new signing Emerson Palmieri take his Chelsea bow on Monday night especially if Alonso hasn’t gotten over his ailment in time for the match. Gary Cahill suffered badly against the pace of the Bournemouth and Watford’s attackers and might get the night off but that will be dependent on Christensen’s availability for the match. Cesar Azpilicueta will surely be making his 250th Chelsea start on Monday barring any last minute injury to our Mr. Dependable. Maybe Thibaut Courtois was rushed back too soon as he hasn’t been in tip top shape since his return but I still expect him to be chosen ahead of our veteran Argentine who was more than an able deputy while Courtois recuperate from his ankle injury.
Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Rudiger; Moses, Kante, Drinkwater, Fabregas, Alonso; Hazard, Giroud.
Last Five Matches: LLWWD
Injuries: Pedro Rodriguez (Ankle) – Doubt; Marcos Alonso (Muscle) – Doubt; Alvaro Morata (Back) – Out; Ross Barkley (Hamstring) – Doubt; Andreas Christensen (Hamstring) – Doubt.
Alan Pardew will surely be delighted to have the trio of Gregory Krychowiak, Kieran Gibbs and Jonny Evans back and available for the trip to Stamford Bridge on Monday night as those three form an important part of his plan having started every match in the league they have been fit for since Pardew took over from Tony Pulis last year and I suppose he would like to take his best legs into the battle with Antonio Conte’s team. In the case that those three aren’t considered match fit Pardew has Claudio Yacob, Alan Nyom and Gareth McAuley ready to step in for them should the need arise. Ahmed Hegazi and whoever partners him between Jonny Evans and Gareth McAuley will have their hands full containing Olivier Giroud on Monday and that’s sure to be a source of worry for Pardew with Eden Hazard likely to be there to pick up the pieces. Daniel Sturridge made his first start for the Baggies against Southampton last time out after his Deadline Day loan deal from Liverpool and Pardew might turn to the English striker again especially with his familiarity with the Stamford Bridge surroundings. Alan Pardew has turned to a 4-4-2 formation in recent games having started the job with his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation and he’s likely to keep faith with his two striker system with Sturridge partnering a resurgent Salomon Rondon in attack. Matt Phillips and Chris Brunt are likely to provide the width that Pardew always crave from his side with both of them able to put decent crosses into the box for the pair of Rondon and Sturridge to attack. Jay Rodriguez, who’s facing a racial abuse charge from the FA, is another option for Pardew to choose in attack should he feel the need and so is Jake Livermore, if he’s fit enough, in central midfield. Ben Foster is almost a certainty to start in goal, except if there’s a late injury, as is Craig Dawson at right back. Gareth Barry should be lining up alongside Krychowiak in central midfield as he continues to increase his record Premier League appearance.
Foster; Dawson, Hegazi, Evans, Gibbs; Phillips, Krychowiak, Barry, Brunt; Sturridge, Rondon.
Last 5 matches: LLDWD
Injuries: Gregory Krychowiak (Thigh) – Doubt; Kieran Gibbs (Hamstring) – Doubt; Jonny Evans (Back) – Doubt; Hal Robson-Kanu (Hamstring) – Out; Jake Livermore (Hamstring) – Doubt; Nacer Chadli (Thigh) – Out; James Morrison (Achilles) – Out.
Victor Moses vs. Matt Phillips
Matt Phillips and Chris Brunt on the opposing side will be the major supply of the ammunition for their two strikers to wreak havoc on the Chelsea defence so both Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso (or whoever plays in that position) must be alert to that danger, especially Victor Moses as Matt Phillips is a pretty tricky customer any day.
Olivier Giroud vs. Ahmed Hegazi
The only weakness I’ve seen about Ahmed Hegazi is the physical aspect of his game or the lack of it. Both Hazard and Morata joined forces to cause West Bromwich Albion’s defence during the first leg but in the Spaniard’s continued absence Giroud will effectively take his position and I’m sure he will make a good job out of it..
Eden Hazard vs. Gregory Krychowiak
If, as expected, Eden Hazard plays alongside Olivier Giroud in attack and should that be the case then he’s likely to attack the pocket of space in front of the ‘D’ and I’m sure Alan Pardew would have assigned someone to shackle his legs in order for him not to impact the game as much as he’d want to, and he’s likely to turn to Polish midfielder Krychowiak to do the job.
With Spurs getting the better of the Gunners in the weekend’s opening fixture and Swansea getting all three points against Burnley, our match against West Brom has taken on extra significance with both still having it all to do at opposite ends of the table before the end of the season. A win for Chelsea will see us leapfrog Tottenham back into fourth on the table but even a win will not be enough to take the Baggies off the base of the table but it’ll go a long way in ensuring their safety. Antonio Conte has been in the news for the wrong reasons recently but I hope he has what it takes to win and turn the tide of bad results starting with Alan Pardew’s men before facing Hull City and Barcelona in the FA Cup and Champions’ League respectively. Our next match will be the fifth round match against Hull City on Friday and I sincerely hope we go into that game on the back of a win but until then Keep The Blues Flag Flying High!
Thumbnail image courtesy of: Evening Standard
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