Saturday, 10 December 2016

Chelsea v West Brom Match Preview (11/12/16): Conte’s Troops Ready to Make it Nine

We hate to say we told you so, but even with pundits, punters and even some sections of Blues support suggesting that Manchester City would prove a worthy adversary for the Blues, we maintained our stony defiance: this Chelsea side was simply too good for a City outfit that cannot defend properly.

Okay, spoiler alert, Pep Guardiola’s side created a hatful of chances and could have won what was a feisty affair, but if you don’t take your opportunities against quality sides – as Chelsea have become – then you can expect to get punished. Particularly when the central spine of your defence is Claudio Bravo-John Stones-Nicolas Otamendi, but hey: that’s a different debate for another time.

The Blues were ruthlessly efficient on the counter-attack – not a tactic they have had to deploy too many times of late, and goals from Diego Costa (who else), Willian and Eden Hazard got the job done. Yes, City were reduced to nine men, but both Aguero and Fernandinho were sent off after the Blues had taken their 3-1 lead. Tough luck, lads.

This week, attention turns back to Stamford Bridge as we welcome West Brom to London on Sunday. The Baggies have been in decent form themselves of late, but clearly the focus will be on claiming that ninth straight victory since Antonio Conte crafted Chelsea 2.0

Chelsea Team News

The absence of Nemanja Matic hit particularly hard at the City of Manchester Stadium last week, and is proof of how the Serbian has grown this season. He offers excellent physicality in the middle of the pitch, and while his replacement Cesc Fabregas is a more than able deputy, it will be nice to welcome Matic back on Sunday.

There is a concern about Diego Costa, who hobbled off in the dying embers on Saturday. It looked like cramp at first, although it is believed the Spaniard has been on light duties this week in training. Presumably that is just a precautionary measure.

Other than that, there should be no enforced changes for Conte to make, although we wonder if he will be tempted to start with Willian in the inside right position. The Brazilian was hugely impressive when he came off the bench on Saturday, scoring the second and producing an all-action display. Conte may choose to stick with Pedro though given that he has served him so well in these past seven weeks or so.

Chelsea v West Brom Head to Head

It might be a tad surprising to learn how many times West Brom have beaten Chelsea over the years – 42 wins in 135 matches, and while that might not look all that impressive on the face of it, to think that generally the Blues have been the far better side for the past century or so suggests the Baggies hold no fear of the Blues.

Chelsea won thirteen in a row against the West Midlands outfit between 1993 and 2011, and then a small sea-change occurred: the Baggies won back-to-back matches at the Hawthorns, and their last four trips to the Bridge have yielded a pair of defeats and two draws. They certainly should not be underestimated here.

How the Match Will Be Won

The first thing that Chelsea must do in this match is not be complacent. They may have beaten the likes of Manchester City, Tottenham and Everton in recent weeks, but to dismiss this week’s guests as ‘only’ West Brom would be fatal. Tony Pulis’ side have proven in their unbeaten run of four that they are no mugs, and currently they are proving to be particularly enterprising in attack too.

Defending set pieces will be crucial too; Chris Brunt offers an excellent delivery and there are some big lads in this West Brom side, such as Gareth McAuley and Jonny Evans. Not switching off at corners and free kicks will be top of Conte’s list this week in training.

Realistically, there is little in this West Brom side that should be able to hurt us in open play. Matt Phillips is in excellent form on the right wing and he will need to be watched closely, but in an attacking sense the Baggies aren’t too hurtful – apart from at set pieces, as mentioned.

This is a Tony Pulis side so clearly they are going to defend deep and in numbers when out of possession, so it could be one of those frustrating afternoons unless we strike early. Patience will be the key, as will overloading on the left flank where Allan Nyom will be stationed as West Brom’s right back. He is the typical modern number two: an excellent athlete, but not the most reliable defender. Hazard on his left shoulder and Alonso on his right could be a very fruitful combination.

Starting moves from deep – and thus sucking out the West Brom lines, and occupying the spaces either side of Darren Fletcher and Claudio Yacob (a decent midfield pairing but not the most mobile), will go a long way towards securing a Chelsea win here. Just stay alert to those whipped crosses into the box at set pieces!

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