CHELSEA

v

WEST BROMWICH ALBION

Stamford Bridge, London

March 2, 2013; 15:00 GMT

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Chelsea will host Steve Clarke’s West Bromwich Albion on Saturday amidst palpable tension at Stamford Bridge in the aftermath of Rafa Benitez’s comments directed towards the fans and management. What the manager failed to understand that had the team been playing well, getting decent results, the fans – at least the reasonable ones – would have given him credit and at least been neutral towards him. However, the fact that the team has been awfully inconsistent and devoid of any kind ambition has just added fuel to fire. Fans are fuming, players are unsettled, and the manager is struck in the middle of all this. If the team doesn’t get off to a bright start, we might be in for one hell of a night at the Bridge.

On the field, the Blues got the better of Middlesbrough in the FA Cup to set up a date at Old Trafford to take on Manchester United in the quarter-finals, but before that lost to Manchester City at the Etihad in the league. Their competitors are breathing down their neck and Chelsea need to pick up their results if they are to safely secure a Champions League berth for next season.

West Brom, on the other hand, have picked up two vitally crucial wins after losing their way in the new year. They won at Anfield before securing a victory over Sunderland in their last game and will now hope to continue with the good work against Chelsea, whom they’d defeated in the reverse fixture late last year.

Team News and Tactical Brief

Chelsea

Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta are likely to be fit to take on West Brom this weekend, while Yossi Benayoun remains a doubtful to even make the bench. However, with most of the first team players available, his absence surely won’t hurt the European champions. Oriol Romeu remains the only long-term absentee for Chelsea.

Chelsea will again go into this encounter with a 4-2-3-1 system, with Cech, Azpilicueta, Luiz, Terry and Cole forming the back five. Lampard, who is one goal short of 200, is expected to feature in the double pivot along with John  Obi Mikel, with Eden Hazard ahead of them on the left, Moses on the right and Mata operating behind the target-man Demba Ba.

In the kind of form Romelu Lukaku is in, Chelsea defense will surely breath a sign of relief that the mountain of a striker isn’t eligible to take the field against his parent club. Considering the madness going on off the field, the players will have to take it upon themselves to start positively, score early and pacify the fans who’d be baying for their manager’s blood, after what has transpired since the victory over Middlesborough.

Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Cech; Azpilicueta, Terry, Luiz, Cole; Lampard, Mikel; Hazard, Mata, Moses; Ba

West Bromwich Albion

Steve Clarke would have loved to take Romelu Lukaku back to the Bridge and showcase what a fine player he’s developing into under his able guidance, but the former Chelsea player and assistant coach would rue the fact that the Belgian isn’t available. Shane Long is expected to fill in for him, but the striker is slightly doubtful because of his ankle. In the scenario that Long isn’t available, Peter Odemwingie will take the field and try to win back support of the fanbase; even if Long starts, Odemwingie can still play out wide behind him. Popov will serve the last of his three-match ban against the Blues.

Clarke’s team will also line-up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, as their hosts will. Ben Foster, who has traditionally performed well against Chelsea, will hope to keep the defence comprising of Reid, McAuley, Olsson and Ridgewell, organized in front of him. Molumbu and Yacob will be stationed in front of them, with Odemwingie, Morrision and Brunt playing behind Long.

Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Foster; Reid; McAuley, Olsson, Ridgewell; Molumbu, Yacob; Odemwingie, Morrision, Brunt; Long 

Key Facts

  1. West Brom have beaten Chelsea in each of their last two games, both at The Hawthorns, having lost all previous 11 Premier League encounters.
  2. Chelsea have won all six Premier League meetings at Stamford Bridge, scoring 17 goals and conceding just once.
  3. Chelsea have been awarded more penalties (nine) than any other side this campaign.
  4. The Baggies have 40 points from 27 games – a Premier League club record – and the most since the 1978-79 campaign, when they also had 40 points. That was the last season they completed the double over Chelsea en route to a third-placed finish.
  5. West Brom are the sole Premier League team not to have had an Englishman score for them this season. Fulham (2001-02 and 2005-06) are the only club to have gone an entire season without an English scorer.
Statistics courtesy BBC Sport.

Player To Watch Out For

Demba Ba (Chelsea)

After making his move from Newcastle, Ba has settled pretty nicely in West London, scoring three goals along the way; however, a powerhouse performance from the striker is due, and with the Baggies missing their top-scorer in Romelu Lukaku, Chelsea’s leading front-man can settle this tie for his team, taking some pressure off the team.

Prediction

Chelsea 3-2 West Brom

Despite the pressure from the home fans, Chelsea should be able to win this encounter, although not without a scare or two.

Blast From The Past