Monday 12th February 2018, Stamford Bridge – After an exciting weekend of premier league action, it was Chelsea vs West Bromwich Albion for the Monday night football game.
From a certain perspective, both clubs were playing for their survival – Chelsea, for their hopes of champions league qualification (and for their manager’s job); West Brom, propping up the entire table, for the right to keep playing in the best league in the world.
Fellow strugglers Swansea and Huddersfield had managed impressive wins against Burnley and Bournemouth respectively. West Brom needed to win some games, and quickly.
In terms of recent form, things weren’t that different for the home side. Chelsea had just experienced their worst pair of results in the Roman Abramovich era, losing an aggregate 7 – 1 to Bournemouth and Watford.
But some previous good form and the relative competitiveness of the league meant that all was not lost. Manchester United and Arsenal had both lost 1 – 0 over the weekend, and Chelsea had the chance to climb back into the top four – if they could get all three points tonight.
Olivier Giroud started his first game for his new club. Andreas Christensen returned from injury to replace David Luiz, and Antonio Rudiger came in for Gary Cahill, who’d been in pretty poor form recently. Cesc Fabregas replaced the suspended Tiemoue Bakayoko in midfield.
Alvaro Morata was finally fit again after a back injury. He was on the bench for Chelsea tonight, but Marcos Alonso missed the game with an ankle problem.
Jonny Evans, Kieran Gibbs and Grzegorz Krychowiak all returned for Alan Pardew’s side, and Daniel Sturridge started up front against his former club, alongside Salomon Rondon.
Line-Ups & Ratings
Courtois 6, Moses 8.5, Azpilicueta 8, Christensen 8 (Cahill 6), Rudiger 7, Zappacosta 7, Kante 7.5, Fabregas 7, Hazard 9, Pedro 7.5 (Willian 6), Giroud 8 (Morata 7)
Subs Caballero, Emerson, Cahill, Ampadu, Drinkwater, Willian, Morata
West Bromwich Albion
Foster 5, Gibbs 5, Dawson 5, Hegazy 5.5, Evans 5.5, Phillips 6, Barry 6 (Yacob 5), Brunt 6.5 (Burke 7), Krychowiak 6, Rondon 7, Sturridge NR (Rodriguez 7)
Subs Myhill, Nyom, Yacob, McAuley, McClean, Burke, Rodriguez
After leaving Chelsea back in 2013, Daniel Sturridge made a strong start to his Liverpool career. He scored 24 goals under Brendan Rodgers’ management in his first full season at Anfield. Unfortunately, he soon gained the reputation of… well, being made of biscuits.
His bad luck continued tonight. Barely a minute into the game, he went down on the left wing after what looked like light contact from Cesar Azpilicueta. After a few minutes’ treatment he went off injured, and was replaced by Jay Rodriguez.
West Brom played extremely aggressively early on, trying to take advantage of Chelsea’s recent wobbly defending. Christensen, Azpilicueta, Kante and Rudiger coped with the pressure remarkably well, before Chelsea started pushing up and applying some pressure of their own at the opposite end.
Eden Hazard played a beautiful cross into the box early on, but Giroud’s finish lacked power and Ben Foster made an easy save.
Victor Moses made a hash of a West Brom long ball, heading it short of Courtois. Jay Rodriguez got to the ball first; he was one on one with the keeper and really should have scored, but he hit ball wide.
Twenty-five minutes in, Hazard opened the scoring for Chelsea. He held off Gareth Barry on the edge of the area, before dribbling round and slipping a pass through to Giroud. The French international shielded the ball from Ahmed Hegazy before touching it just left, into space for Hazard to whip a shot past the keeper for 1 – 0.
Chelsea had another good chance from a corner, with Christensen heading the ball back towards the near post. Giroud went for a spectacular overhead kick, but it was off target. He might have let it run to Azpilicueta instead, who was in a better position to score.
Azpilicueta tried one of his trademark early crosses in for Giroud – but the ball went past the striker to the far post. Davide Zappacosta got in past Matt Phillips to connect with the cross, but he could only knock the ball into the upright.
Giroud needed treatment twice in the first half after a Jonny Evans tackle from behind, and an unintentional boot to the back of the head from Hegazy.
Zero To Hero
Oliver Burke replaced Chris Brunt at half time, and the youngster almost made an instant impact, haring down the right wing to cross the ball in, but Azpilicueta cut in to prevent Rondon from scoring.
Chelsea had difficulty coping with another long ball up the pitch; Christensen stooped to head the ball back to Courtois, but Rondon bundled him off to the side and gained possession. It really should have been a Chelsea free kick, but at the end Courtois got a foot to Rondon’s shot to put it out for a corner. Evans got ahead of Christensen on the corner, but his header went just over the bar.
Victor Moses almost gave away a goal when he put Rodriguez in position to score in the first half, but he completely redeemed himself in the second. He drifted in from the right wing to ping the ball off Fabregas. Fabregas’ return pass came off a defender back into his path, and Moses tucked it neatly past Foster for 2 – 0.
On balance Chelsea deserved the goal, but it was still a bit cruel on West Brom, who seemed to be finding their way back into the game.
Moses had another chance just a few minutes later, drifting in again past Gibbs and hooking a shot at goal, but this time Foster managed to save with his foot.
Hazard came wide to join the party going on on West Brom’s left wing. He passed centrally to Morata, who held it, then cut it back to him. Hazard drifted inside of Evans, then hooked in an almost identical shot to Moses’. This time Foster didn’t even try for the save, 3 – 0.
Evans tried to carry the ball up the pitch and Moses dispossessed him, but his pass into the box was just beyond Morata. Phillips put another cross in towards Rondon, but Azpilicueta intervened again to prevent a goal.
Chelsea looked a completely different team from their games against Watford and Bournemouth. It might have been the result of having a target man to focus their attacking play, bring others into the game and draw the defence away from their wide forwards and wing backs. Or maybe it was the time off Conte gave his players midweek. Or the quality of the opposition. Or a combination of all three.
Either way, they took the points and leap-frogged Spurs into fourth, one point behind Liverpool in third, three points behind Manchester United; West Bromwich Albion remained pinned to the bottom of the table.
Next up for Chelsea, two important cup games in eight days: Hull City in the FA Cup fifth round, and FC Barcelona in the Champions League.
Final Score Chelsea 3 – 0 West Bromwich Albion
Thumbnail image courtesy of: Metro
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