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Chelsea vs. West Bromwich Albion, Premier League: Opposition Analysis

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There’s treating a life threatening disease with foul-tasting medicine, and there’s drinking cyanide. West Brom seem to have got the two confused.

FBL-ENG-PR-MAN CITY-WEST BROM Photo credit should read OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images

The Season So Far

We’ve all grown tired of the numerous Proper Football Men across English-speaking football media telling us “be careful what you wish for” when one of their beloved Proper Football Men managers is close to being sacked — the implication being that rigid, uninspiring, boring football under an ageing British coach guarantees midtable safety and is therefore the least of all evils — and West Brom’s campaign is fast becoming the best possible advert for never hiring an ageing British manager ever again.

Gigantic sighs of relief were breathed all around the Hawthorns when Tony Pulis left the club after nearly three entirely miserable years in charge. Unsurprisingly, the football was beyond abysmal, Baggies supporters gradually forgot that coming to the ground could possibly be fun, the players got bored of training and eventually stopped trying to do anything other than kick the ball as hard and as far as they could down the pitch, and results this season were catastrophic. Pulis could have no arguments about receiving his marching orders.

The brave new post-Pulis world West Brom fans had in mind hasn’t materialised, however. While the Baggies were still conducting interviews with potential coaches, this writer posted: “Surely all West Brom fans are hoping for is an optimistic and exciting new manager to take charge — i.e. not Sam Allardyce or Alan Pardew.” It was to a collective sigh of despair that West Brom immediately went right out and hired Alan Pardew.

Sometimes the wisdom of those in football simply has to be questioned. How on Earth is it possible that those who take key decisions within the sport can be so bone-headed, while almost everyone outside of the game can see that replacing Pulis with Pardew is like trying to treat a life-threatening disease by drinking cyanide?

Since taking charge at the end of November and promising to “free up” West Brom’s attackers, throwing off the strangling shackles of Pulisball, Pardew has guided the Baggies to one league victory in twelve games. They have lost to Swansea City when the Swans couldn’t buy a goal; they have lost to Stoke City when Mark Hughes was clinging on to his job by his fingernails; they have lost to West Ham and Southampton, two sides whose fanbases are more-or-less at war with their own clubs.

In a Premier League in which any one of ten or eleven teams could end up going down, West Brom look like increasing certainties for the drop. They’re currently bottom and four points off safety, morale is completely through the floor and they’re relying on a Trumpesque blowhard fraud to save them. One thinks back to when West Brom had a world of possible managers to choose from post-Pulis and wonders how on Earth they chose to take this path.

The Season Ahead

Twelve games remain and each one will be treated like a Cup final by Pardew – which, given his record in Cup finals, probably isn’t the best idea. The loan acquisition of Daniel Sturridge at least gives them more threat in the box and a potential partnership between Sturridge and Salomón Rondón would be promising provided they had the right service, and provided they were playing under almost any other Premier League manager.

The good news is there are plenty of winnable fixtures ahead in the coming weeks for the Baggies to save themselves. Of course, Chelsea are in rotten form and with their own manager’s future in doubt, and West Brom have infamously taken great pride in ushering Blues managers out of the door in recent years. Even so, the Baggies are so pitifully awful at the moment that another Chelsea collapse is hard to foresee.

Tactics

Alan Pardew may call himself ‘The King’ but his tactical acumen is more ‘The Pauper’. One imagines his grand anti-Hazard plan is almost inevitably going to be “4-4-2, let’s f**king get into this lot”, which you just know is going to end well.

On a more serious note, of late West Brom have been playing a lop-sided 4-4-2/4-3-3 and almost exclusively attacking down the flanks, utilising the pace and guile of Matty Phillips on the right and the cultured left foot of veteran set-piece specialist Chris Brunt on the other side. They’ve also kept up the rich Pulisian tradition of being dangerous from dead balls. It’s Proper British Football: two up top; fast wingers; crosses into the box; jumpers for goalposts. Marvellous, isn’t it?

Strengths

Apart from posing a genuine threat from crosses and set plays, there’s not much to say.

Salomón Rondón is a truly decent human being.

Daniel Sturridge is an excellent finisher when he’s not injured.

Jonny Evans and Grzegorz Krychowiak are much better than the shower they’re surrounded by.

There seems to be a hex about Chelsea playing against West Brom when their manager is under pressure.

Weaknesses

Only six teams have taken fewer shots than West Brom this season and only four have had fewer shots on target.

Only four teams have a lower Expected Goals total.

Only two teams have created fewer chances in open play this season.

They’ve won one Premier League game since August.

They’ve taken four points away from home in the last five months.

They’re bottom of the league.

Alan Pardew is their manager.

Likely XIs

Jonny Evans and Nacer Chadli remain out but Kieran Gibbs could return to take the left-back spot. Presumably Rondón and Sturridge will start, placing huge pressure on the midfield two to cover a huge area.

Chelsea should welcome back Marcos Alonso and it’s possible that Álvaro Morata and Andreas Christensen will return from injury too. David Luiz will probably never be seen again based on his showing against Watford.

Prediction

Chelsea 3-0 West Brom. Yes, I’m serious. No, I’m not going to stop predicting easy Chelsea wins.