The FourFourTwo Preview: Chelsea vs West Brom
Chelsea's inexorable march to a fifth league title continues.
- Liverpool 1-2 Chelsea (Prem)
- Maribor 1-1 Chelsea (CL)
- Chelsea 2-1 QPR (Prem)
- Shrewsbury 1-2 Chelsea (LC)
- Man Utd 1-1 Chelsea (Prem)
WEST BROM FORM
- WBA 0-2 Newcastle (Prem)
- Leicester 0-1 WBA (Prem)
- Bournemouth 2-1 WBA (LC)
- WBA 2-2 Palace (Prem)
- WBA 2-2 Man Utd (Prem)
2014/15 is going so well for Chelsea that the Blues keep winning even during a fortnight without any games.
Top of the Premier League, unbeaten, top of their Champions League group and now, as the club announced triumphantly towards the end of last week, reporting record profits.
A new TV broadcasting deal, player sales and a systematic, sophisticated manipulation of the loan system for profit has resulted in Chelsea posting profits of £18.4 million for only the second time since Roman Abramovich acquired the club 10 years ago, a figure that dwarves the £1.4m profit posted in 2012.
Add that to Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas' Spanish international absence, which allowed them to enjoy a nice few days off to kick back on the sofa resting their sore hamstrings - the supposedly questionable soreness of which caused quite the debate in Spain, prompting criticism from Sergio Ramos and coach Vicente del Bosque to observe that their international places are no longer guaranteed - and all in all it's been a decent few weeks for the league leaders.
Business resumes on Saturday with the Blues looking to extend their 14-game unbeaten league run and four-point lead atop the table.
West Brom head to Stamford Bridge in 13th and still harbouring bitter memories of their last trip to the blue corner of London.
A 96th-minute penalty for a dubious foul on Ramires cost them their win and Steve Clarke the honour of becoming the first manager to beat Jose Mourinho on his own turf in the Premier League (an honour later claimed by another former Blue, Gus Poyet).
Given Chelsea's imperious form, the odds are stacked against the Baggies - Berahino or no Berahino. West Brom haven't won at Stamford Bridge since 1983, while their last league victory came in September 1978 way back when The Commodores' Three Times A Lady was rocking the charts.
The Baggies have won just three of their last 14 Premier League games (W3 D4 L7) and Didier Drogba has a habit of scoring against them (8 in 9, his highest goal tally against any English club along with Arsenal). Alan Irvine's men have won more away games than at home this season, but their chances are remote.
Fabregas (hamstring, though nicely rested) and Andre Schurrle (illness) are minor doubts for Mourinho's men while for West Brom Seb Pocognoli (thigh) is a doubt and Jonas Olsson (achilles) is out.
Key battle: Nemanja Matic vs Craig Gardner
Matic has brought real quality and distinction to Chelsea's midfield since joining in January. Indeed, so conspicuous are his performances that even Robbie Savage has described him as an 'unsung hero'.
In fact, his manager has been doing some pretty good crooning on the same very subject lately.
"He was signed in the most difficult market for players [January] so the second half of last season was a space of improvement and adaptation for him," Mourinho has purred. "At this moment, he’s a giant. Not for his size but for the way he plays. The man is a giant."
In Chelsea's most recent league win over Liverpool Matic was, once again, a giant: Chelsea's top passer, the game's top tackler, a tidy distributor and a stern midfield defensive presence.
Gardner's performances since joining West Brom in the summer, meanwhile, have been similarly towering. He is on the third leg of his tour around the Midlands having played for both Birmingham and Aston Villa, and since joining the Baggies he's been a pillar of defensive resilience.
The 27-year-old is West Brom's most prolific tackler and his defensive acumen has seen him make more interceptions than any other player at The Hawthorns.
It doesn't always work to his advantage - he's the club's dirtiest player with 2.2 fouls per game, which saw him miss the Newcastle defeat through suspension - but his return to the squad is a welcome boost.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- WBA 1-1 Chelsea (PL, Feb 14)
- Chelsea 2-2 WBA (PL, Nov 13)
- Chelsea 1-0 WBA (PL, Mar 13)
- WBA 2-1 Chelsea (PL, Nov 12)
- WBA 1-0 Chelsea (PL, Mar 12)
While odds of 20/1 for Irvine to be the next Premier League sacked suggest the Glaswegian is under little pressure for now, there is a muted, growing discontent among a section of Baggies fans regarding the former Sheffield Wednesday gaffer and right hand man to David Moyes. A perception that the football offered by Irvine's side has thus far been functional at best, drab and predictable at worst is fair in some respects - as anyone who saw Southampton 0-0 West Brom or Leicester 0-1 West Brom might attest.
But the Clarke days weren't much more goal-laden; West Brom had scored one less at this point last season.
While those reminiscing on the madcap unpredictability and suicidal attacking naivety of the Pepe Mel era may wish to recall that the Spaniard's win rate remains one of the worst in West Brom's history; not to mention that Irvine has already won as many matches as his predecessor, despite overseeing five less.
Sat on the opposing bench, Mourinho doesn't have any of these types of problems to deal with. He's great.
Facts and figures
- Chelsea have netted with 23% of their shots, the best conversion rate in the Premier League.
- Chelsea have won just 1 of the last 5 Premier League games against West Brom (W1 D2 L2).
- Mourinho's side have recovered the most points from losing positions of any team in the league (9).
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Chelsea are just too strong for everyone at the moment. 3-1.
Back 3-1 at 11/1 with Bet365. Odds right at time of publication