Match preview: West Bromwich Albion vs Chelsea
Stadium: The Hawthorns
Referee: Michael Oliver
Kick-off: 8:30 PM IST, Saturday, 17th of November
Sitting on a comfortable 20 points, and in fifth place, ahead of the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham, Newcastle, Swansea, and Liverpool, West Brom have definitely been the surprise package of the season thus far. Displaying phenomenal home form, with five wins out of six league games, they could be a real hazard to Chelsea‘s title challenge. With a victory ensuring that West Brom go within a point of Chelsea, Steve Clarke’s men have real incentive to perform well.
Chelsea have seen their early season form go up in flames after the league loss to Manchester United, and with only 2 points in their last three fixtures to West Brom’s six, have the joint second worst tally over the past three weekends for the Premier League. The added pressure of a game against Juventus on Tuesday, which is a must-win for the Turin club, will factor heavily on Di Matteo’s mind as he picks his starting eleven for the trip to West Bromwich.
West Bromwich Albion: W L L W W
The supporters at The Hawthorns couldn’t have asked for a better start to the Premier League season, seeing their team beat the likes of Liverpool and Everton to make it to a European spot in the table. However, the two losses in their past five games have come against Manchester City, and Newcastle United, bringing into question the baggies’ ability to play with the big boys of the league. West Brom have really pulled together as a team thus far, with four players tied for the most goals scored; one of whom, Romelu Lukaku, is ineligible to play against his parent club.
West Brom have failed to score on only one occasion thus far in the season, and will be quietly confident of finding the net in front of home fans. Defensively as well, the performances have been impressive, and Steve Clarke will hope for another solid day’s effort from his defenders, in the absence of first choice ‘keeper, Ben Foster.
Chelsea: L W D W D
Chelsea have had a slump in form, no doubt, but what has really hurt them has been the fashion of their defeat to United, and the controversies that followed. For no matter how much of a professional a player is, an unstable, chaotic environment will unsettle him, and affect his performance. Now, with much of the fire subsided, RDM will hope that his men can get back to winning ways in the league as soon as possible, with a chance to at least temporarily go top of the league with a 2-goal margin of victory, provided Manchester City fail to win their match.
There are fitness concerns for most of the Blues’ senior defenders, and whether Di Matteo chooses to risk playing them ahead of Tuesday’s trip to Italy remains to be seen. In the absence of John Terry, however, West Brom will always feel they have a chance to sneak in behind Chelsea, and good defending could make all the difference in the world for Chelsea.
West Bromwich Albion: Craig Dawson, Ben Foster, Romelu Lukaku, Steven Reid, James Morrison, Steve McAuley.
Chelsea: John Terry, David Luiz, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard.
Juan Mata vs Billy Jones
October’s Premier League player of the month, Juan Mata, has been on song for Chelsea this season, with everything that the Spaniard touches turning to gold. With his tally of four goals and six assists in the league this season coming in his last six games, there isn’t a midfielder in better form in England, at the moment. Equally adept at open play, and set pieces, Mata has been more influential for Chelsea than their star signing, Hazard, who has been only slightly less impressive. Englishman Billy Jones is an unheard of commodity, but has put in a few decent performances at right-back. However, with tackling not being his strongest point, and Mata’s tricky feet, Chelsea might just channel plenty of attacks down the left wing.
Steve Clarke vs Roberto Di Matteo
In an interesting clash, we see former Chelsea assistant manager Clarke face off against former West Brom manager, Di Matteo. Clarke, who was at Chelsea under Mourinho, and Avram Grant, will know the heart of Chelsea fairly well, while Di Matteo guided West Brom into the Premier League, and will know most of the players inside out.
The tactics that are employed by the managers, in particular, Clarke could well define the direction that the match takes. If Clarke decides to put forth a defensive line-up that is determined to not concede, and hit Chelsea on the break, it will indeed be very difficult to break them down. Di Matteo, on the other hand, will have to ensure that his players remain fresh for their European campaign as well, and will be eager to put the game to bed as soon as possible with an attacking line up.
Another bad day at the office for Chelsea, perhaps? The loss against United was followed by two difficult fixtures that Chelsea failed to win, and this weekend will be no different. The Baggies have been favoured opponents for Chelsea, but the Blues saw their 11-match unbeaten streak come to an end with a 1 – 0 defeat in this fixture last season. With the aforementioned Champions League crunch clash against Juve on their hands as well, Chelsea would do well to leave with all three points, but may have to settle for just one.