Premier League | The Hawthorns | Tue 11 Feb | 8pm
A dishevelled looking Jose Mourinho wheels his poor little horse into The Hawthorns looking for shelter. As the West Brom defence sleeps, Eden Hazard and an army of elite warriors, clad in resplendent royal blue, break out of the Trojan horse and desecrate The Hawthorns with the Baggies helpless against the ruthless attack. Mourinho stands in the centre circle, cackling wickedly, as The Hawthorns burns to the ground. The end.
How long before Mourinho starts laughing during another self-deprecating TV interview? “Chelsea win the league? No, not us. Not meagre old Chelsea, not without a star striker. We couldn’t possibly compete with the powerhouses.”
WEST BROM FORM
- Palace 3-1 WBA (Prem)
- WBA 1-1 Liverpool (Prem)
- Aston Villa 4-3 WBA (Prem)
- WBA 1-1 Everton (Prem)
- So'ton 1-0 WBA (Prem)
- Chelsea 3-0 Newcastle (Prem)
- Man City 0-1 Chelsea (Prem)
- Chelsea 0-0 West Ham (Prem)
- Chelsea 1-0 Stoke (FAC)
- Chelsea 3-1 Man Utd (Prem)
The Blues sit top of the league and can extend their lead to four points if they beat West Brom. Everyone knows Mourinho is full of it - even he knows.
His modest assessment of Chelsea’s title-winning credentials is just another carefully deployed mind trick – even if it’s as transparent as one of Robbie Keane’s “dream moves”.
Hazard, a talented individual who has been transformed into a ubiquitous team player by Mourinho, said: “The most important thing is to make the coach happy.” With 14 goals in 35 appearances this season, the Belgian is doing just that. His headline-making form has helped Chelsea go on an 11-game unbeaten run in all competitions – with nine wins secured during that time. Liverpool, Manchester City and United were all slain after a goalless draw with Arsenal.
In that same period the Baggies have won once in 10, drawing five and losing four. Pepe Mel has overseen four of these results after taking over from Steve Clarke in January. He’s still winless and despite seeing his team draw at home to Champions League-chasing Merseysiders Everton and Liverpool, it’s hard to see that changing on Tuesday.
The third-from-bottom Baggies have only won three of their 12 home games in the Premier League. Chelsea have 21 points from a possible 36 on their travels. You have to go back to December 7 and a trip to Stoke for the west Londoners’ last league defeat on the road.
West Brom’s slow start on Saturday cost them at Crystal Palace. There will be no time to find their groove on Tuesday night. Mourinho’s little horse will gallop straight through a sluggish rearguard.
David Luiz will continue to partner Gary Cahill in defence with John Terry still out injured. Fernando Torres is back in training as he continues his recovery from a knee injury.
Unfortunately for Mel, West Brom’s defensive stalwart Jonas Olsson is still unavailable, but could return for the game against Fulham on February 22 as he gets fit with former world boxing champion Richie Woodhall.
Key battle: Billy Jones vs Eden Hazard
Poor Billy Jones. Only three games into his return from injury and he has to face the Premier League’s in-form player. That’s probably why he might have to face a late fitness test. Hmmm. Hazard scored his first hat-trick in English football on Saturday, prompting Mourinho to hail him as “the best young player in the world”.
On top of his goals he made 19 passes in the attacking third – more than any other player on the pitch. The mercurial winger also pitched in defensively, producing a display full of industry and tactical acumen. When he had to track back and mark, he got his head down and did it.
Hazard will have to be alert defensively, because Jones isn’t afraid to get forward. The right-back made 11 passes deep behind enemy lines during West Brom’s 1-1 draw with Liverpool. Jones also made 7 ball recoveries, 4 interceptions and 3 tackles, making him one of the best defensive performers on the day. He’s not going to be able to stop Hazard on his own, but he will be the first line of defence against the Belgian’s high-energy assault.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Chelsea 2-2 WBA (Prem, Nov 13)
- Chelsea 1-0 WBA (Prem, Mar 13)
- WBA 2-1 Chelsea (Prem, Nov 12)
- WBA 1-0 Chelsea (Prem, Mar 12)
- Chelsea 2-1 WBA (Prem, Aug 11)
Mel has only been in charge at West Brom 33 days, but he knows there’s no time for a honeymoon period: “Now we have 13 very important games to ensure West Brom are in the Premier League,” he said. “The first thing is to try and win the game on Tuesday, and if we want to stay in this league we must play like we did in the second half against Liverpool last weekend and the second half (v Crystal Palace). We have 13 cup finals and 13 battles and we must win as many as we can – and the players must come with me in this battle.”
Mourinho, trying to guide Chelsea to their first Premier League title since 2009/10, insists his table-topping Blues are just trying to qualify for Europe’s premier competition next season. “We are happy with what we are doing and at this moment in time we are top. That is great, but we want to play well and improve and that is it,” he said. “I want to secure a Champions League position and the further we are from fifth place, then we can begin to think about other things. My concern is increasing the gap between ourselves and fifth.”
TIPS & TRENDS
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Facts and figures
- Chelsea are unbeaten in 10 matches and have won their last 3 away games – both the current longest streaks in the league.
- Chelsea have conceded just twice in their last 9 games.
- West Brom have won only 1 of their last 15 games.
- 9 of West Brom’s 12 home games this season have had fewer than 3 goals – the joint most in the league.
Best Bet: Correct Score 0-2 @ 7.25
More FFT Stats Zone facts • Find the best odds with Bet Butler
If you’re reading this Mel, here’s a stat that will encourage you – Chelsea have lost their last two games at The Hawthorns. Here’s some bad news – the Blues have the best defensive record in the division, having conceded only two goals in their previous nine games. Good luck, you’re going to need it. Chelsea to win 2-0.