Match Review: Chelsea vs. West Bromwich Albion
Stamford Bridge | #CHEWBA
9 wins in a row and top of the league! The last time Chelsea went on a 9 game winning streak was nearly a decade ago in 2007. The Chelsea machine roars on against a Tony Pulis team that set up to bring it to a grinding halt although for about the an hour Pulis’ plan seemed to be working perfectly.
Chelsea has faced the whole spectrum of tests now; the “we’ll match you”, the “we’ll attack you”, the “we’ll press you up” and now the dark arts of the parked bus. Chelsea themselves are no strangers to this tactic but have often failed to play well against it, often resulting to hoofed balls into the box, speculative substitutions and free style football. But on this day, Antonio Conte broke the bus in a patient, persistent and systematic way.
The first half was all Tony Pulis as West Brom put on defensive clinic. Chelsea for all their pos-session made only one shot on target - from a David Luiz free kick - meanwhile fast breaks put Chelsea on the back foot on several occasions. West Brom looked favourite to take the lead with Salomon Rondon out muscling David Luiz* on a number of occasions. Gary Cahill had an immense game to make up for Luiz’s mini slump. Chelsea meanwhile were resigned to playing around the defensive block of West Ham and never created any real chances. Pedro and Hazard were marshaled all the way and could barely have breathing space, let alone create. Moses for the most part was unused and Ben Foster remained largely untested. It ended 0-0 at the break.
The second half continued in similar fashion, with West Brom denying Chelsea any route to goal and forcing bad passes all over the pitch and so Conte switched it up, taking off Pedro who had been physically dominated all game for the more imposing Willian to introduce more strength. The formation also switched to a 4-2-4 with Moses moving out wide on the left, Diego and Hazard in the middle of the top 4 and Willian wide right. Chelsea increased in possession of the ball and Willian held off West Brom’s challenges well but no chances were being created still and so in the 74th minute Conte rolled the dice again. Cesc Fabregas replaced Victor Moses and Chelsea switched shape to a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 and two minutes later:
“I think there is something, every time I make a pass, he [Diego Costa] makes it special” - Cesc Fabregas
Fabregas lobbed the ball over the opposition’s defensive line and Diego Costa chased down a ball that didn’t look too promising but still managed to win it off Gareth McAuley, cut inside to-wards goal with the trailing defender on his hills and slotted the ball past the on-rushing Ben Foster into the top left hand corner of the West Brom goal from a tight angle. It was a spectacular finish indeed.
Understandably, the game opened up a bit after this as West Brom introduced attacking options in search of a way back. Conte responded by taking off Eden Hazard for Ivanovic and the team changed shape again to a 3-5-2, a defensive move in order to protect the lead. Chelsea were quite happy to attack in transition. It was nervy at some moments but never really in doubt as Chelsea held their nerves to see out an impressive victory at the Bridge under the beaming smile of Roman Abramovich.
Diego Costa will get all the praise for his magnificent contribution (his goal now makes him the clear leader in the top goal scorers list with 12), but an honourable mention has to be made for Gary Cahill. EBGC was solid, immense and focused all through the game, made an important block and a goal saving interception. He even managed to break up some of West Brom’s attempts at counter attacking.
Conte’s use of substitutes was also impressive, with every single change contributing to this vic-tory. Willian held the ball up well in front and was always a danger with his sheer power and Ivanovic helped shore up the victory with no fuss. It is impressive to see players that have not started often come in off the bench and make such and impact, that and the overall fluidity of the term when switching systems at various times in the game speaks to the impressive coaching of Conte and dedication of the players.
Chelsea take on Sunderland next at the Stadium of Light on Wednesday. Sunderland are currently bottom of the league table so this is not exactly the toughest test, however Chelsea will do well to keep their concentration as the league remains tightly packed at the top (and with all this points deduction brouhaha). The real question now is will Conte rotate players to accommodate next week’s quick succession of games?
*David Luiz’s left knee looked an utter mess today. Sideshow Bob is definitely playing with some discomfort and it showed in his first not-so-assured performance since his return to Chelsea. No doubt we will be keeping a close eye on that one, Luiz is notorious for commitment even in pain (a la Munich), but there is no need to aggravate any injuries to our most vital defender at this point. In the meantime, who could cover for him?
Make sure to listen in as the London Is Blue team ponders this and many more in the upcoming podcast!