The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
17 November, 2012, 15:00 BST
This might be a game of football which sees West Brom square off against Chelsea in one of the Premier League’s routine fixtures, but for some the stakes are much higher. There is a predominant Chelsea influence and a fair share of history coming into this game at The Hawthorns. Manager Roberto di Matteo must have wondered if his managerial career was on a downward spiral post his sacking by West Brom on the 5th of February 2011.
He led the team to promotion from the Championship and for a fleeting while it seemed like Di Matteo would continue the stellar work as he was named manager of the month in September 2010, after West Brom made their best ever start to a Premier League season. However, the good times wouldn’t last for longer as West Brom then went on to garner unsatisfactory results for the next three months and the boardroom had seen enough of the Italian. It was in the summer of 2011 when Chelsea recruited Andre Villas Boas and Di Matteo was chosen as his assistant alongside Steve Holland; the rest as they say, is history.
Current West Bromwich manager Steve Clarke has had a very contrasting experience to that of his counterpart. He may not have di Matteo’s lucky stars, but he has still learnt his trade from the best teachers football has on offer. As a player Steve Clarke played 330 games for Chelsea. After serving briefly as an assistant to former team mate Ruud Gullit at Newcastle, Steve Clarke decided to come back to his old club and decided to earn his stripes by working with the youth teams. Chelsea’s culture of promoting youth coaches saw him appointed to the post of assistant manager when Jose Mourinho announced his arrival at the club. The Special One had a way of making everyone around him feel special and Steve Clarke benefited hugely from his three year stint under Mourinho. When Chelsea got Luiz Felipe Scolari to the club, Clarke felt his time at Chelsea was over as Scolari seemed to trust his assistants Darlan Schneider and Flavio Murtosa more.
Chelsea highly valued his work as evidenced by the club rejecting his resignation when he offered it at first. Eventually they worked out a compensation with West Ham, as Clarke decided that joining West Ham under Gianfranco Zola was the right challenge for him at that moment. That stint largely yielded mixed results but he did enough for Liverpool FC to take notice and was appointed first team coach under Kenny Dalglish. As Dalglish garnered plaudits in the media for Liverpool’s resilient reversal of fortunes post Roy Hodgson, there were many within the club who were also crediting Clarke.
On 12th May 2011, the duo signed improved three year contracts, but the season that followed was disastrous in every sense of the word. The club had spent a lot of money buying new players and were expected to qualify for the Champions League, but the signings simply weren’t up to the mark and Liverpool ended up finishing 8th. That summer saw Clarke depart yet another club until West Brom came calling; tt would be his first job as first team manager and today, they stand fifth in the table with 20 points in hand.
Team News And Tactical Brief
West Bromwich Albion
Buoyed by the current position in the table and back to back wins against Southampton and Wigan, West Brom will come into this fixture feeling extremely confident. Their only defeat at home this season was a very respectable 1 – 2 defeat against title defenders Manchester City. The Baggies play a fairly constant 4 – 2 – 3 – 1 shape with Mulumbu and Claudio Yacob playing in the pivot. Their strength however, lies in their unpredictability. It is quite difficult to predict the front three but Romelu Lukaku is definitely ruled out as the laws prevent him from playing against his parent club. Clarke could choose to go with any three from James Morrison, Chris Brunt, Zoltan Gera, Shane Long or Peter Odemwingie upfront.
Their win against Wigan came after they went with a surprise 4 – 4 – 2 and that provides West Brom with two options to go with. Clarke can either choose to go with two strikers to trouble Chelsea’s fragile defensive line or they can opt for a more familiar 4 – 2 – 3 – 1 with James Morrison playing behind the striker and covering in midfield. An optimistic mood in the West Brom camp suggests that they could spring a surprise on Chelsea.
Big news on the injury front from a Baggies perspective is the absence of Ben Foster through a groin surgery he had last week, while Steven Reid has returned to training but will not be rushed back into action.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Boaz Myhill, Billy Jones, Jonas Olsson, Gareth McAuley, Liam Ridgewell, Claudio Yakob, Yusuf Mulumbu, James Morrison, Chris Brunt, Shane Long, Peter Odemwingie
Over the last week or so, there has been a growing realization even for those outside of the Chelsea camp that the team is running on low fuel so to speak. The front six namely – Mikel, Ramires, Oscar, Hazard, Mata and Torres – have started almost every game and the sharpness they displayed early in the season seems to have blunted somewhat. There is no option for di Matteo but to play the midfield duo in Mikel and Ramires as Frank Lampard’s injury situation remains unclear and if he were fit, it is likely that he wouldn’t be rushed back into action for the Blues. The likely change is going to come only in attack for Chelsea with Moses replacing one of Hazard or Juan Mata while the defence is likely to see David Luiz paired alongside Gary Cahill, in the absence of the John Terry, with Ivanovic moving into his preferred right back role.
Ashley Cole is also expected to come back into the line-up for this game after he was out with an ankle problem for a week. The defender hasn’t featured for England this midweek against Sweden and is well placed to make a comeback into the side. Petr Cech too didn’t travel along with the Czech Republic as the federation have agreed with Chelsea to not play him for friendly games; it is never in doubt that the Czech stopper will start.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Petr Cech, Branislav Ivanovic, David Luiz, John Terry, Ashley Cole, Ramires, John Obi Mikel, Oscar, Victor Moses, Juan Mata, Fernando Torres
- Seventy-five per cent of West Brom’s 20 Barclays Premier League points have been won at the Hawthorns this term.
- The Chelsea defence haven’t managed a clean sheet in 6 games now and the going doesn’t get any easier with the club having to play 7 out of 9 games away from home in December.
- Andre Villas Boas’ last game in charge of Chelsea was against West Brom.
- West Brom have conceded 12 goals this season while Chelsea have conceded 11.
- Shane Long is leading at the numbers game with 5 goals and 4 assists this season.
Player To Watch Out For
Shane Long (West Brom)
The forward is West Brom’s main man this season and has the skill set and confidence at present to trouble Chelsea’s defenders. There is also a parallel challenge for Long to re- establish himself in Giovanni Trappatoni’s Ireland team as he has only started a handful of fixtures for them.
He said: “It’s been tough. For three out of those five years, I wasn’t really starting in the Premier League, and you had the likes of Kevin and Robbie and Jon Walters and people like that playing every week, so I could accept it then. But I am slowly pushing my way in there and putting the pressure on the lads to take their starting position. It’s all about doing it at club level and doing it again on Saturday against Chelsea.”
West Bromwich Albion 1 – 2 Chelsea
Chelsea are only projected as the winners here because of their superior quality in every position. However, a draw could equally be on the cards because of a fatigue-affected Chelsea side and also due to the fact that West Bromwich Albion are playing at home. Steve Clarke would no doubt settle for a draw if he knew that would be the outcome, but the approach would be to set themselves up for a win. Roberto di Matteo, meanwhile, has his task cut out trying to motivate his players to give it their all as the grueling schedule begins to tell. Chelsea do not have the considerable talents of Didier Drogba to bail them out in a deadlock scenario and it remains to be seen if Fernando Torres can provide a winner, for once.
Blast From the Past