Chelsea have been excellent since their change to a 3-4-3 formation and they have emerged as the frontrunners for the league title after their victory over Manchester City last weekend. They will need to follow that up with a win over West Brom on Sunday to ensure they take their good form into the festive period. Tony Pulis has proven himself as a good Premier League manager over the years and he will be relishing the opportunity of putting an end to Chelsea’s good run of form. It won’t be a great watch for the neutral, but it will be interesting to see if Chelsea can extend their run of wins to nine.
Antonio Conte has been one of the best managers in world football since his time in charge of Juventus and he is beginning to show his quality in the Premier League. During the summer, it was Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho that took the headlines, but it could be Conte that has the last laugh if he leads Chelsea to the title. The Christmas period will be a new challenge for Conte as he has never had to deal with it before. He has made few changes to his starting eleven since the change of formation, but that isn’t sustainable when the games come quickly over Christmas. The Italian needs to change his approach if Chelsea are going to reclaim the league title.
West Brom decided the give Tony Pulis a new contract earlier in the season, despite the supporters wanting a change and that is looking like a good decision. They have surged to 7th place in the division and are only one point below Manchester United. The Baggies have taken ten points from their last four matches and have been good value for them. Their next test is to show that they can get results against some of the bigger teams in the league and they have a weekend to do that this weekend at Stamford Bridge.
There were plenty of goals in the matches between the two clubs last season. In the corresponding fixture, the sides finished level at 2-2. The Chelsea goals were scored by Cesar Azpilicueta and Gareth McAuley (OG), while Craig Gardner and James McClean netted for the visitors. Meanwhile, at the Hawthorns, Chelsea took the three points with goals from Pedro, Cesar Azpilicueta and Diego Costa, despite a brace from James Morrison for the home side.
Cesar Azpilicueta has only scored two goals for Chelsea and both of those have come against West Brom.
Diego Costa has been involved in more goals (16) than any other player in the Premier League this season.
No Premier League side has scored more goals from corners than West Brom this season, who have six.
The Belgian is back to his best this season and it is no surprise that his return to form has coincided with Chelsea being back at the top of the league. His poor performances last season played a major part to Chelsea falling down the league and they will be relieved that he is once again performing at an elite level. There are no players in England that can beat opposition defenders like Hazard can and on his day, he is the best player in the Premier League. He will be crucial this weekend as West Brom are very well organised at the back. Pulis will set up with two banks of four and limit the space given to Chelsea, especially in attacking areas. This could lead to a frustrating afternoon for Chelsea and the longer the score stays at 0-0, the more confident West Brom will be about getting a positive result. There are few better teams at soaking up pressure and they will look to do that at Stamford Bridge. That is why Hazard is important, as he can beat two or three players and create space for himself. He may be required to produce a moment of magic this weekend and in his current form, you wouldn’t back against him doing so.
He was one of the big name signings for West Brom during the summer and he has been excellent for them since joining. The former QPR player adds dynamism and creativity to their attack, which is required as West Brom are a defensive side. During the season, he has contributed three goals and four assists, an excellent return for the opening months. At the age of 25, he could yet develop into a very good Premier League player and his performances this season suggest that he belongs at the top level. It was surprising that he stayed at QPR after their relegation, but he finally got his move to the Premier League and he is taking advantage of the opportunity. He will be the key man for West Brom this weekend as the Baggies will be given few chances against an in form Chelsea defence. and when they get the ball in the final third, they need to threaten. Phillips has the ability to create chances for his team-mates and West Brom will need that quality final ball on Sunday if they are to have any chance of avoiding defeat.
Diego Costa, Nemanja Matic and Pedro are all doubts for this weekend. Meanwhile, Todd Kane, John Obi Mikel and Ruben Loftus-Cheek are all close to returning to join the first team squad, which will provide Conte with a boost ahead of the festive period. John Terry won’t be involved this weekend due to a hip injury.
Saido Berahino is close to returning to action and could be provided with an opportunity to salvage his West Brom career. The only West Brom player that is a certainty to miss the match is Boaz Myhill.
It is difficult to see anything other than a Chelsea win this weekend, due to their excellent form of late. They look like the best team in the league and they will take some stopping this season. The change to a 3-4-3 formation could be one of the best tactical moves in Premier League history and shows the intelligence that Conte has in terms of tactics. I think they will take the three points this weekend, but it won’t easy against a good West Brom side.