West Brom vs Chelsea preview: Can Pulis complete his hat-trick of Jose victories?
18th vs 16th: a relegation six-pointer.
WEST BROM FORM
- Watford 0-0 WBA (Prem)
- WBA 0-3 Man City (Prem)
- Bristol Rovers 0-4 WBA (F)
- Walsall 0-2 WBA (F)
- Swindon 1-4 WBA (F)
- Man City 3-0 Chelsea (Prem)
- Chelsea 2-2 Swansea (Prem)
- Chelsea 0-1 Fiorentina (F)
- Arsenal 1-0 Chelsea (C Shield)
- Chelsea p2-2 Barcelona (F)
Swansea City and Manchester City are tough opponents, but even the most pessimistic Chelsea fan could not have expected a start to the season as bad as this. One point from their opening two encounters has left the Blues five points behind table-topping City already, with public fallouts with doctors and physios plus half-time withdrawals of captains, leaders and legends adding to the sense that all is not well in SW6.
All of which leaves the Blues facing a must-win game in the middle of August: with Manchester United likely to beat Newcastle United on Saturday and Manuel Pellegrini’s side looking unstoppable at present, defeat could leave Chelsea eight points off the top, a hefty margin even at this early stage of the campaign.
A loss at The Hawthorns on Sunday would also fuel further talk of the nomadic Jose Mourinho having never stayed in one place for more than three seasons.
Tony Pulis and West Bromwich Albion would probably have settled for being level on points with Chelsea after two matches before a ball had been kicked – the situation the Baggies find themselves in – but they will in fact be disappointed, particularly as they're yet to get on the scoresheet.
Neither a 3-0 defeat to Manchester City nor a 0-0 draw at Watford are terrible results in themselves, but Pulis will be keen for his side to get off the mark as soon as possible.
A slightly easier run of fixtures awaits West Brom after this one – the Midlanders face Stoke, Southampton, Aston Villa, Everton, Crystal Palace and Sunderland in their next six games – but they will be aiming to take advantage of Chelsea’s current struggles by getting their first win on the board on Sunday.
The champions will be without attacking midfielder Oscar through injury, but otherwise have a fully fit squad at their disposal. John Terry is likely to return to the heart of the backline despite his early exit from last weekend’s setback, although Branislav Ivanovic’s place in the XI could be under threat after two poor performances: with new left-back Baba Rahman now available for selection, Cesar Azpilicueta could switch over to his more natural side on the right to replace the shaky Serb.
Ben Foster is a long-term absentee for the Baggies, with Arsenal loanee Serge Gnabry lacking in match fitness. Salomon Rondon could be handed his first start in a West Brom shirt after a promising 30-minute cameo against Watford, with winger James McClean also vying for more than just a place on the bench.
Key battle: Saido Berahino vs John Terry
While Mourinho has never been shy to play mind games or mislead the media, his explanation for the substitution of Terry against City was comprehendible: the former England captain has never looked as solid when playing in a high line – the main reason his form dipped during Andre Villas-Boas’s short tenure at Stamford Bridge was because the Portuguese coach asked his Chelsea defenders to push up to an absurd extent – and Chelsea’s need to chase the game meant greater speed in the backline was required.
It is no secret that Terry has always lacked pace, but such a public admission from Mourinho could tempt West Brom into playing a few more early balls over the top for Berahino to sprint after than usual. The England Under-21 striker won his side a penalty when these two teams last met in May, forcing Terry to give chase down the right channel before drawing a foul from the Chelsea skipper inside the box. It would be a huge surprise if the meticulous Pulis does not instruct his team to adopt a similar approach on Sunday.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- WBA 3-0 Chelsea (PL, May 15)
- Chelsea 2-0 WBA (PL, Nov 14)
- WBA 1-1 Chelsea (PL, Feb 14)
- Chelsea 2-2 WBA (PL, Nov 13)
- Chelsea 1-0 WBA (PL, Mar 13)
Pulis took the rare step of publicly admitting he got his tactics wrong in his side’s 3-0 reverse to Manchester City two weeks ago. “I said to them [the players] after the game that I have to take responsibility,” the Welshman revealed.
“Playing Saido and Rickie [Lambert], I think that left the midfield too open, going against the principles that I’ve always worked with and worked to. It’s given me a rude awakening as well as brought me back down to earth.”
Mourinho and Pulis share many of the principles that the 57-year-old was alluding to, namely the practice of pragmatism and a belief that games are won and lost on the transition. There has always been a sense of mutual respect between the pair, with the Portuguese somewhat uncharacteristically magnanimous in defeat after being beaten by West Brom last term and Pulis’s Crystal Palace outfit in 2013/14.
Facts and figures
- Chelsea have allowed their opponents a league-high 18 shots on target so far in the 2015/16 Premier League.
- No team has defeated West Brom more often in the Premier League than Chelsea (13 wins, level with Arsenal).
- Tony Pulis has won 2 Premier League games against Jose Mourinho – no manager has won 3 PL games against the Portuguese.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
West Brom to get on the scoresheet; Chelsea to get back on track with a much-needed victory. 1-3.