And, has thou slain the Baggiewock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!
It was right about this time last year when West Bromwich Albion came within a Ramires dive of beating Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. The 2-2 draw was symptomatic of the Blues' struggles last season. We were incapable of keeping control and finding killer goals against lower-calibre teams, and the Baggies made us pay. This time around it really couldn't have been more different.
At no point did West Brom come within a sniff of threatening Thibaut Courtois' goal. At no point did they come within a sniff of coming within a sniff of threatening Thibaut Courtois' goal. Chelsea strangled them with possession from the outset, inching their way up the pitch whenever they had the ball and blitzing the visitors into giving it back during the rare occasions in which we didn't have control.
The only fear -- and that didn't last long -- was the spectre of Ben Foster having a blinding performance and robbing a point. The first big chance of the game, created by Cesc Fabregas and Eden Hazard from a short corner, saw John Terry get a free flick on goal from inside the six yard box. That should have made it 1-0, but Foster managed to stick out the boot and divert the shot inches beyond the far post.
We had all of three minutes to wonder if the keeper was going to ruin our day before Diego Costa rather emphatically ruined the Baggies'. The Blues worked the ball down the left, where Hazard was merrily slaughtering Andre Wisdom, and Oscar managed to exploit a moment of incoherence in the visitors defence to pick out Costa with a cross. The striker's first touch was perfect, the ball popping up off his chest just so, and his second was imbued with all the venom we expect from a Diego Costa shot. 1-0 Chelsea.
Oscar and Costa nearly combined to double the advantage shortly thereafter, but Foster saved the Brazilian's long-range piledriver and somehow managed to prevent Costa from scoring the rebound. Hazard, too, could have added to the scoreline, but after waltzing into the Baggies box with sublime skill, he saw his shot deflected behind for one of the ten million corners Chelsea won over the course of the match.
It was one of those corners -- not that one -- from which the second goal arrived. Fabregas fired a short pass towards the unmarked Hazard at the near post, and he had enough time to dance past Craig Dawson and nutmeg Foster. At 2-0, the job seemed done.
Claudio Yacob made especially sure Chelsea were going to come away with the points by getting himself sent off with more than an hour left. A loose touch from Costa set up a fifty-fifty at the top of the WBA box, and Yacub decided to contest it by taking both feet off the ground and jumping in the vague direction of the ball. While he didn't stamp on Costa, he was clearly out of control, and Lee Mason opted to flash a straight red card at the midfielder.
It was too easy for the Blues at 11 versus 11, and with a man advantage the match just got sad. A misplaced sense of mercy is probably the only reason Branislav Ivanovic didn't add further to the scoreline after being played in via a brilliant pass from Fabregas, and Oscar apparently decided scoring normal goals was too easy and that he'd only try backheel shots from now on. It didn't work very well.
By halftime, the visitors had been run ragged. Down two goals and a man -- and lucky that the game was even that close -- Alan Irvine sent his side into damage control mode. That probably shouldn't have mattered to Chelsea, and they had an opportunity to grab a third very early after the break only for Nemanja Matic to thump over with an admittedly difficult volley, but with a tough schedule over the next few weeks the Blues made the decision not to waste energy attempting to force their way through the West Brom defence.
It didn't make for particularly great viewing, but the match was won and further goals were entirely unnecessary. The second half was essentially the footballing equivalent of white noise, great for our nerves but not much else. But sometimes that's ok. Chelsea got three points, didn't pick up any more injuries, and we're still flying at the top of the league. I'll take it.