Alex Keble examines the tough resistance that will await Jose Mourinho and the Blues...
Talk of crisis and another crumbling Mourinho dynasty are certainly premature, but Chelsea’s trip to The Hawthorns is unnervingly significant for this time of year. Tony Pulis is the master of the defensive retreat, and having been recently punished for a tentative emergence from the shell against Manchester City, his West Brom team will no doubt form in a stubborn defensive formation.
Rickie Lambert and Saido Berahino were fielded in that heavy Hawthorns defeat to City. An extra man in midfield will instead be utilised this time, with Pulis readily admitting after the opening 3-0 drubbing that he'd got things wrong against one of the league's heavyweights.
West Brom held 31% possession against City and just 35% at Watford, continuing with their ruthlessly organised defensive structure and emphasis on swift long-ball attacks. Pulis will utilise a very narrow and deep 4-5-1 formation with Claudio Yacob, James Morrison and Darren Fletcher shimmying across central midfield and ensuring that no gaps emerge for the threaded through-ball.
Their roles will be particularly crucial against the infield runs of Eden Hazard and dual central threat of Cesc Fabregas and Oscar. Yacob (3 interceptions against Watford; 2 in the 3-0 victory at home against Chelsea last season) is the destroyer who must stay deep to cut off the passing lines, while Morrison must step up to meet Fabregas as he lurks dangerously outside the final third.
The pattern of this match should be easy to follow; the wall erected by West Brom will be ruthlessly organised, their threat on the counter minimal. It is the perfect opportunity for Chelsea to rediscover the high-tempo attacking football that flickered dimly in the opening 45 minutes against Swansea – and clear the dark clouds gathering ominously over Stamford Bridge.