Chelsea are facing a must-win fixture on Monday night as they attempt to reclaim their place in the top four of the Premier League. They welcome bottom-placed side West Bromwich Albion to Stamford Bridge, which on paper looks a straightforward three points. However, the Blues have been in a disarray recently and although the Baggies are at the foot of the table, they are no pushovers, as they showed last month by knocking Liverpool out of the FA Cup at Anfield. They showed that they can compete against the top-six away from home and a similar performance could be forthcoming on Monday.
Tottenham’s victory over Arsenal saw them leapfrog Chelsea into the top four and that will be a mental blow to the squad. After last season, the Blues were expected to push on under Antonio Conte, but friction between the manager and the board have seen them suffer on the pitch. They have lost their last two Premier League matches against Bournemouth and Watford, conceding seven goals in the process. The team don’t look like they are playing for the manager anymore and the Italian will come under even more pressure if they fail to win on Monday.
Although West Brom are currently bottom of the table, they are far from dead and buried. Their room for error has decreased significantly though and that is a concern, as they must enter every match trying to get something from the game. They can’t afford to write any match off as a foregone conclusion. This fixture against the reigning champions comes at a good time for the Baggies, as Chelsea are in awful form. If Alan Pardew can get his side to put their hosts under pressure early, they could have a good chance of earning at least a point, if not all three.
- Since the beginning of December, Chelsea have won only eight of their 19 matches played. That is not good enough for a team that is wanting to challenge for major honours.
- No team have won fewer matches than West Brom this season in the Premier League. They have won only three times and two of those victories came in August.
Chelsea have been crying out for more creativity in recent months, as they have been too predictable, often choosing to give the ball to Eden Hazard at every opportunity. The Belgian is a talented player and he has been playing well, despite the poor form of the team, but it is clear that he needs help and Cesc Fabregas could be the player to provide it. The Spanish international is one of the best central midfielders in Premier League history and he still has the ability to perform to a high standard. This season, he has contributed only one goal and four assists, but his underlying numbers remain impressive. He is averaging 3.9 chances created per ninety minutes, which is up there with the best players in the division. To provide context, the midfielder many see as the best player in the league this season, Kevin de Bruyne, is averaging only 3.12 chances created per ninety minutes. If Chelsea can improve their finishing in the final third, Fabregas’ contributions in the final third will increase sharply. The red card to Tieumoue Bakayoko means that the Spaniard will start and he will be given space to operate in by a defensive Baggies. This could be his chance to shine.
It would be poetic for Chelsea’s former striker to return to haunt them on Monday and potentially spell the end for Antonio Conte. He has a point to prove at West Brom as he tries to prove a point to Jurgen Klopp and make the England World Cup squad in the process. To achieve that, he will need to score the goals to keep the Baggies in the division. They are currently four points adrift at the bottom of the division and a win on Monday would do them the world of good. At this time, he is still building up his fitness and his confidence. A goal against one of his former teams could give him the momentum required to push on for the rest of the campaign. He has intelligent movement in the final third and has the ability to cause problems for a Chelsea defence that is lacking in confidence at the time of writing. It was a surprise that West Brom managed to secure his services and he will be the player they look towards for inspiration as they attempt to climb the table.
Tieumoue Bakayoko will be serving his suspension after being sent off against Watford last week. Pedro, Marcos Alonso and Andreas Christensen are all doubts, while Ross Barkley and Alvaro Morata are likely to be missing.
Grzegorz Krychowiak, Kieran Gibbs, Jonny Evans and Jake Livermore are all in a battle to be fit to start at Stamford Bridge. It would be a huge boost if all four can be passed fit for the trip. However, Matt Phillips, James Morrison and Nacer Chadli will all be unavailable for the visitors.
The last few weeks have surprised me when it comes to Chelsea. Their run of bad form can’t continue for much longer, as there is too much quality in the squad and Antonio Conte is one of the best managers in the world. However, it is similar to their sudden fall under Jose Mourinho during the 2015/16 season and for that reason, another poor result is possible. It is up to this group of players to show that they have more fight than the squad did two years ago. West Brom will try to be positive and take advantage of the lack of confidence among the home players, but a narrow Blues win remains the most likely result.