The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
April 16, 2011; 7:30 pm, IST


Chelsea resume their quest to qualify automatically for next year’s Champions League when they pay a visit to the Hawthorns this Saturday.  This will be their first competitive game since their unceremonious exit from the Champions League. On the other hand, West Brom are fresh from an enthralling come from behind victory at the Stadium of Lights, consolidating their position to a respectable 10th spot in the league.

The hosts have been going through a nice little purple patch in the past couple of months. They are unbeaten in as many as seven premiership games, a promising run which also includes a home victory over a resurrected Liverpool and a well earned stalemate against the title challengers Arsenal.  They are currently seven points ahead of the dropzone. Ace striker Peter Odemwingie, who has scored almost a quarter of the team’s goals, has targeted a score of at least 15 goals at the end of his maiden season. Their opponents have not enjoyed playing against the Midlands sides this season, losing twice(against Birmingham and Wolves) in four games. The only worry for Roy Hodgson’s men is their defensive frailty. West Brom number one Stuart Carson has only been able to keep a solitary clean sheet, the worst record in this season’s premiership. The clean sheet came in West Brom’s first home game in August.

The possibility of defending the championship has already been lost for the visitors. Being ousted from the FA Cup and Carling Cup rounded off the failure to compete for any title in the domestic front. Failure to land the elusive continental trophy confirmed another trophyless season for the defending champions. This failure has also put a few question marks on Ancelotti’s future. Roman Abramovich is, of course, not renowned for his patience and it has been rumored that Ancelotti might be relieved from his managerial duties at the end of the season, his probable destination being AS Roma.

Carlo is feeling the heat

All is not lost for Chelsea, yet. They are currently four points behind 2nd placed Arsenal and two points ahead of 4th placed Manchester City, with a game in hand. In the reverse fixture Chelsea thumped 6 goals against then Roberto Di Matteo’s West Brom. With Chelsea’s current form, it looks highly unlikely that they will be able to repeat that feat. The good news for Chelsea is that since the inception of the Premier League, Chelsea have won all their matches against the Baggies, a 9-0 track record to be specific.

Team News and Tactical Brief

West Bromwich Albion

West Brom are unlikely to make much change to a formation that has been working for them in the previous weeks. Peter Odemwingie has been in amazing form all season and is likely to lead the line on his own. Paul Scharner, Youssuf Mulumbu and Chris Brunt have formed a good alliance in midfield and should continue unless Graham Dorrans is fit enough to start. At the back, without the injured Pablo Ibanez, Abdoulaye Meite and Jonas Olsson are expected to play in tandem, with Marek Cech and Gonzalo Jara likely to be confined to a place on the bench.

Roy Hodgson has an almost full strength line-up for Saturday’s clash, with only defender Pablo Ibanez ruled out for the encounter.  He will keep a crowded midfield by fielding five men in the middle to put pressure on the Chelsea midfield. Hodgson’s men are expected to sit back and hit hard on the counter to exploit the void left by Chelsea fullbacks.

Probable Starting Line-up(4-5-1): Carson(GK), Meite, Olsson, Shorey, Reid, Mulumbu, Brunt, Scharner, Thomas, Cox, Odemwingie.

football formations


David Luiz will come back to the side. In the pre-match press conference Ancelotti mentioned that the other two Brazilians, Ramires and Alex will not be a part of this game: “They have a little muscle problem, so for two or three days they have to stay off and they come back for Birmingham”. With Ramires out, Benayoun might get his first start in five months. Ancelotti is yet to decide on his line-up with a Friday afternoon training session still to come before travelling to the west Midlands. Torres could feature in this game, another attaempt to break the duck. Ancelotti stood by his misfiring attacker: “Last year the same situation, [Wayne] Rooney was not playing well and not scoring, but everyone in the club maintained good confidence in him and everyone believed he could move, and he moved very well. Now Rooney has come back to play fantastic football. I think Torres is the same, maybe one goal could give him the possibility to move on quickly.

Despite the loss in the midweek, the 4-4-2 has been more productive for Chelsea and it is likely that Ancelotti will not tinker much with the tactics. The fullbacks will pair up with the wide midfielders to put pressure on the fullbacks of West Brom. Lampard will play creative part in a box to box roll and Mikel will play as the ball winning midfielder, occasionally accompanying Lampard up front.

Probable Starting Line-up(4-4-2): Cech(GK), Ivanovic, Luiz, Terry, Cole, Benayoun/Essien, Lampard, Mikel, Malouda, Drogba, Anelka/Torres.

Key Facts

1) The Baggies have the joint sixth best goalscoring record in the league having notched 46 strikes from 32 games, better than Everton, Liverpool, Tottenham and Aston Villa, among others.

2) Chelsea have the second best away record in the league, with 23 points from 16 games.


Didier Drogba(Chelsea FC)

Following Torres’ big money transfer to Chelsea, the Ivorian powerhouse was surprisingly relegated to the bench, even in important League and Continental championships. His recent surge in form has somehow gone unnoticed. In the reverse fixture Drogba managed to score a hattrick. Considering his recent form, Drogba is our player to watch out for in the game against the Throstles.

All eyes will be on Drogba

TheHardTackle’s PREDICTION

West Bromwich Albion 2-2 Chelsea FC

West Brom are yet to register their first points against the reigning champions since the inception of the Premier League. But the way they played against Liverpool and Arsenal at home, clearly indicates that Chelsea in current form will find it difficult to maintain their supremacy over their Midlands rival. The Hardtackle predicts a goal scoring stalemate in this game.