West Bromwich Albion — Chelsea (Premier League)
Mid-week League action brings leaders Chelsea to the Hawthorns to face West Bromwich Albion. All of the sudden the “little horse” is being deemed as the strongest contender to the title, although Mourinho keeps downplaying it. One thing he is sure: no time to celebrate or even relax. Leagues are won by not dropping points where you’re not supposed to. The thing is Pep Mel needs them as badly and it’s not they haven’t done it before, is it?
West Brom are atop of the last, with 23 points for 25 matches, 4W/ 11D/ 10L. They’ll be hosting Chelsea on the back of 5 ties without the taste of victory. In 2014 they have managed two 1-1 stalemates with both Everton and Liverpool at the Hawthornes, vital results for a club struggling to avoid relegation. But then they went and spoil it all by failing to Villa or Crystal Pallace, just to mention some. From now on every game counts, as Pep Mel is certainly aware. Especially in a bottom-half table that is to close for comfort.
In November the Baggies and shocked Chelsea by answering Eto’o’s opening goal with two of their own. This time around neither of the West Brom scorers will be fielded. Shane Long left for Hull and Stephane Sessegnon is sidelined with a groin injury. New signings Saido Berahino and Thievy came in from the bench on Saturday and left a good impression that could earn them a place in the line-up.
Sessegnon, Nicolas Anelka, Goran Popov and Jonas Olsson are ruled out.
Probable line-up: Foster — Jones, McAuley, Dawson, Ridgwell — Mulumbu, Brunt — Thievy, Morrison, Berahino — Anichebe.
At the end of week 25 of the Premier League, hold and behold, José Mourinho’s Chelsea arrive at the top. Following the Portuguese’s master-class at the Etihad and sealing the deal with a 3-0 victory over Newcastle in front of their home crowd.
Season’s start was a bit shaky, the new Manager had very specific ideas and the players needed time to let it sunk in. He made a few highly questionable decisions but Chelsea’s supporters gave him the credit his first stay at Stamford Bridge bought him. Benching and ultimately selling Juan Mata was the toughest to swallow but recent events showed him right. No way would the Spaniard perform such box-to-box performances as Willian, Ramires and Hazard have been playing. The pace they put in the counter-attack is absurd but the commitment they evidence in going after whoever carries the ball is just outstanding. The Blues have the least beaten defence of the League, only 20 goals conceded, and that is where their solidity begins. The arriving of Matic just made the team stronger. Some argue that with a proper striker they would be virtually unstoppable, which is maybe true but also unfair to Samuel Eto’o. Once more he did not score but boy does he pitch in! He’ll never be the Eto’o of old again, sure, but after successful Manchester United game he’s feeling confidant to show the young lads he knows a thing or two about football. That is why Mourinho loves him, he is a team player, intelligent enough to adapt and put his skills to the service of the group.
Considering next weekend FA Cup fixture against Manchester City — with the Citizens hopping for payback — it’s only natural the starting XI goes through a few changes. A chance to rest some and bring others in so they prove themselves and feel a part of the excellent moment Chelsea is living. With John Terry injured David Luiz should maintain the centre-back spot alongside Cahill, Frank Lampard could take over from Matic or even Ramires. André Shurrle is also a strong possibility to substitute Willian.
Probable line-up: Cech — Ivanovic, Cahill, Luiz, Azpilicueta — Lampard, Ramires — Schurrle, Oscar, Hazard — Eto’o.
The reverse fixture threatened to break Mourinho’s home record as Chelsea Manager. It took Eden Hazard a penalty shoot to secure a 2-2 draw. A lot has changed since them, Albion is facing relegation and Chelsea is in the best form ever this season. The Blues kept 4 clean sheets in their recent travels and have not lost a League match since the first week of December.