Chelsea’s downturn of form continued at the Hawthorns, with a 2-1 loss to West Brom. It is now no wins in four league games (L, D, D, L) for the European Champions. On the other hand, West Brom under the tutelage of Steve Clarke, have continued their strong performances throughout the season so far – this win sees them go into 4th, 1 point behind Chelsea.
West Brom lined up in their usual 4-2-3-1, however, Gareth McAuley and Steven Reid missed out with injury, meaning Billy Jones and Gabriel Tamas came into the defence.
Chelsea, faced with a crucial Champions League tie with Juventus during the week, made several changes to their strongest line-up. Ramires, Ivanovic, Mata and Oscar were limited to a spot on the bench, whilst John Terry and Ashley Cole missed out with injury. This meant, whilst it was still a strong side, it was not as formidable as it would have been had those players been present in the team.
Early West Brom Goal
In the 10th minute West Brom went ahead via a Shane Long goal. The goal itself was very reminiscent of Everton’s equaliser in the Merseyside Derby, with three players drawn to the ball carrier.
Daniel Sturridge, Cesar Azpilicueta and Oriel Romeu were drawn to the ball, and a reverse pass inside allowed James Morrison time and space to cross the ball into a dangerous area. In the centre of the pitch, David Luiz was unable to stay close to Shane Long who was tasked with finishing the move off.
After going 1-0 down, West Brom maintained their deep defensive block, content with breaking with pace through the middle. This allowed Chelsea to dominate possession of the ball (64.7% vs. West Brom’s 35.3%). Chelsea’s formation was a 4-2-3-1 (as has been commonly used under Di Matteo). The attacking quartet of Moses, Sturridge, Hazard and Torres were not helped by the ‘sitting’ midfield two of Romeu and Mikel.
This duo was much too static; neither offered penetration, either with their passing or with their movement. Both sat deep and passed sideways, which suited West Brom’s deep and compact organisation.
What this did was isolate Chelsea’s attacks. With Torres in poor form and not offering movement in behind, Chelsea could not stretch West Brom. The trio behind Torres, as has been a common feature this season, continually came inside and the width was provided by the fullbacks. However, once West Brom closed down the spaces where Chelsea tried to play, they were forced to go backwards to Romeu or Mikel. This meant they lost momentum.
Romeu and Mikel’s Passing
Both players struggled with the requirements of the game. With West Brom looking to sit deep, create a strong block and be difficult to breakdown, they played into their hands. 98/127 passes attempted by Romeu and Mikel were either backwards or sideways, meaning only 29 passes were forward. This meant Chelsea was too slow moving the ball between the lines. Once the ball went into midfield the play would slow down and this allowed West Brom to get set with their shape.
Romeu and Mikel’s Movement
Similarly, their movement did not help Chelsea. There was no dynamism from Romeu or Mikel, who would pass and stay static. They were reluctant to make forceful runs from deep, something Chelsea has been use to with Lampard, and more recently Ramires. This again added to their broken attacks.
With the score 2-1, Chelsea made a double substitution – removing Torres and Romeu and bringing on Mata and Oscar. Chelsea maintained their 4-2-3-1 shape, with Oscar a direct swap for Romeu and Mata’s introduction resulting in Sturridge moving centrally.
Oscar influenced the game, adding penetration and guile to the midfield – he frequently moved forward and joined the midfield to the attack.
He was also more potent with his passing, with 38% of his passes going forward (vs. 17% from Romeu) and this allowed Chelsea to trouble West Brom’s shape. Also, when Sturridge moved centrally, he added another element to Chelsea’s attacks by looking to get in behind the West Brom defence.
Chelsea added on the pressure and had some chances to equalise, Ramires was also introduced but West Brom was able to stay strong and pick up the three points.
This match came at an awkward time for Chelsea, sandwiched in between and international break and a crucial Champions League match against Juventus – and Chelsea struggled with an understrength side.
West Brom was solid defensively and quick to counter attack through the middle. They deserved the win with a good performance against Chelsea, who now sit only one point above them.