The last time Chelsea faced West Bromwich, greatness took the shape of a single Premier League-wining goal by striker Michy Batshauyi. Today, Chelsea put four past the usually troublesome Baggies, who, on today’s evidence, just can’t wait to be rid of Tony Pulis. The four-goal margin of victory is Chelsea’s greatest ever at the Hawthorns.
For the first time all season, Conte was able to field an unchanged lineup, doubling down on the success of the 3-5-2 after beating Manchester United 1-0 just before the international break. That included a second consecutive start for Andreas Christensen in place of David Luiz, who at least on the bench this time instead of banished to the stands.
On Pulis' side, a mirror was set, with his team of giants — the shortest player was the 1.79m Kieran Gibbs — once again deployed in a 3-5-2 despite ten games without a win. And even though we might mock their ways, especially following the lopsided score to our favour, Pulisball almost worked for the first few minutes of the game. Only thanks to key interventions from César Azpilicueta and the linesman’s flag, were Chelsea able to keep out the towering duo of Rondón and Rodriguez. The former even had the ball int he back of the net, but he was correctly ruled offside.
That initial pressure soon dissipated into the usual Pulisian tactics of sitting deep, denying space, and kicking everything that moves. And while they executed two of those three tenets very well, as Hazard’s and Morata’s ankles will attest, the home side failed to consistently deny space to the Chelsea forwards, and, most unfortunately for them, Cesc Fàbregas.
It only took 17 minutes for the Blues to brew the game’s first goal.
Still smarting from a Gareth Barry challenge, Hazard decided to repay the pain in kind by leaving the 36-year-old midfielder for dead with a deft turn and unleashing a powerful left-footed shot that Ben Foster only managed to parry into the path of Álvaro Morata. It may not have been with his head, but Morata made no mistake in scoring his eighth goal of the season, which temporarily made him the leading goalscorer of the Premier League (before Mo Salah scored his 9th for Liverpool).
Barely five minutes passed, and it was time for Morata to return the favor. The move, of course, all started with Fàbregas.
Dropping deepest of the midfield three, as he would all game long, Fàbregas picked out Morata, whose marvelous backheel flick took out the entire West Brom back line and left Hazard bursting through for a simple finish. It had been a while since Chelsea (or any team) were able to score with this much ease at the Hawthorns, but at 23 minutes on the clock, the match was essentially finished. And the crowd were letting the home team know just how much this displeased them with boos, “Pulis out!” chants, and worst of all, deafening silence.
Chelsea weren’t letting up just yet however, maintaining good possession, controlling any counters, and putting the defenders under constant pressure. The third goal duly arrived after Morata won a free kick against Ahmed Hegazi, who’s only defensive move all game was to hug the Chelsea striker with both arms.
West Brom and Tony Pulis used to be synonymous with set piece excellence, but not even that is working for them season. Cesc’s looping cross found a completely unmarked Marcos Alonso on the far post, whose cool and calm finish was perhaps Chelsea’s best of the day. It was the 26-year-old defender’s ninth Chelsea goal of his brief 1.5-year career.
Chelsea could have made it four in the first half with Morata failing to pull the trigger after bulldozing multiple defenders out of the way, or if Bakayoko hadn’t left his finishing boots back in France, but the game was all but over already anyway.
Down three goals at the half, Pulis took off his only semi-creative midfielder in Grzegorz Krychowia and decided to unleash the hounds of Claudio Yacob. Somehow, the Argentinian midfield only got his yellow card 42 minute later. Jonathan Moss was instead busy inventing fouls by carding both Cesc Fàbregas and Salomon Rondón for perceived “diving” incidents in either box.
Having already won the game, Chelsea allowed their levels to drop a bit, which did invite West Brom to push forward a little bit, but the three points, or, in fact, the clean sheet, were truly in danger. Meanwhile, the stamina that Chelsea saved should be useful for the upcoming away games at Qarabag and Liverpool in the next seven days.
But Hazard and Fàbregas weren’t quite done having fun yet, and the former made it four to the good from the latter’s wonderful pass.
The clock ticked just past the hour-mark at this point, so Conte went to his bench to bring on Drinkwater (for Fàbregas), then Pedro (for Hazard), and finally Willian (for Kanté), switching back to the 3-4-3 for the final 15 minutes. Chelsea could’ve switched to any formation however, even if we did gift a dangerous opportunity to James McClean — the confusion between Christensen and Azpilicueta was perhaps the only time Chelsea’s new-look back three (with Captain Cahill completing the trio on the left) looked at all shaky.
The only thing left by then was for the final whistle to be blown and after the assistant referee decided to cruelly subject West Brom’s players and few remaining fans to two minutes of added-on time, they were put out of their misery.
Despite the great performance against a usually annoying side, Chelsea remain nine points behind Manchester City, who won for the eleventh consecutive time. The Blues do move up to third after Spurs lost to Arsenal earlier in the day. United, meanwhile, keep pace with a 4-1 win over Newcastle United.
But the race is far from over, especially if Chelsea can continue to play like today.
COME ON, CHELSEA!
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