Reigning Premier League champions Chelsea welcomed struggling West Brom to Stamford Bridge for a clash of huge significance for both sides. The Blues headed into this game off the back of two consecutive league defeats, and knew that a win would get them back into the top four. The Baggies meanwhile started this match sitting at the bottom of the league table, and losing here was not an option, with seven points separating them and safety.
Sturridge limps off but the Baggies look sharp
You would have been forgiven for expecting both sides to start brightly in this game, given how high the stakes were, but it was West Brom who piled on the early pressure. The Baggies lost their new star striker inside the first five minutes however as Daniel Sturridge limped off the field with a hamstring injury, but his side could easily have had a penalty just moments after his departure. A clumsy tackle by Cesc Fabregas was waved away by the referee Lee Mason, but it was an early warning sign for Chelsea that the visitors were in the mood. Jay Rodriguez, on for Sturridge, had a great chance to grab an opener after an awful defensive header from Victor Moses put him through on goal, but the striker drove his shot wide of the post.
To their credit the Blues responded well to the early onslaught, and January signing Olivier Giroud began to look dangerous at the other end of the pitch. The former Arsenal man had a number of early touches in the West Brom box, but couldn’t quite manufacture any real chances of note. It was Zappacosta who had the best chance of the game near the 20-minute mark however, connecting with a long cross at the back post, but his shot was bundled round the post brilliantly by Ben Foster in the Baggies goal. Giroud followed that chance up with a golden one of his own a few moments later, finding some space in the centre of the box, but the French international his hit shot straight at the keeper.
Giroud and Hazard link up brilliantly for the opener
After an initial flurry of chances for Chelsea they finally managed to break the deadlock, and the opener came courtesy of Eden Hazard. A wonderful piece of link-up play from Giroud, touching the ball delicately round the corner, allowed the Belgian to strike his shot hard and low into the bottom corner, leaving Foster no chance. The goal seemed to draw a universal sigh of relief from the Stamford Bridge faithful, and gave Antonio Conte’s men a valuable lead, something they hadn’t been able to gain in either of their previous two league matches.
The tempo of the game seemed to slow following the goal, and Chelsea settled into the lion’s share of possession, trying to control the game as best they could. Giroud attempted an acrobatic effort just past the half hour mark that flew just wide, but most of the Blues’ efforts came from the edge of the box, where they held the ball for long spells. The home side did well to push West Brom back into their own half for much of the first half, and the Baggies struggled to get any sort of foothold in the game, despite being a goal down. After few chances in the closing minutes of the half, Chelsea went into the break with a slender but deserved lead, and the visitors had a lot to do in the second half to get back into the match.
West Brom start to look threatening
Alan Pardew decided to introduce Oliver Burke for the second half, removing Chris Brunt, and thus matching Chelsea directly in a 3-4-3 system. It was a positive substitution but did little to limit Chelsea’s stranglehold on the game during the early exchanges of the second period. The Baggies did see more of the ball after the break however, but their attacks were largely fruitless, and the Blues began to look dangerous on the break, with the pace of Pedro and Hazard wreaking havoc amongst the visiting defenders. Neither side could seem to create any clear cut chances however, which suited Chelsea far better than it did West Brom.
After a dry period for good football, the visitors finally woke up and started to attack. Salomon Rondon had the first real chance of the second half, after muscling his way through the defence, but his shot at the near post was palmed aside well by Thibaut Courtois. The resulting corner was met with a towering header from Jonny Evans, which looked for all the world as if it would end up in the top corner, but instead it flew agonisingly over the bar, providing little more than a heart-in-mouth moment for the Chelsea fans behind the goal.
Moses and Hazard hand Chelsea all three points
Conte quickly elected to introduce Alvaro Morata in an attempt to swing the balance back in favour of the home side, and the substitution had an immediate impact. The striker’s shot a few moments after coming on earned his side a corner, and after a breakdown in defending that followed a clearance it was Victor Moses who bagged the goal. A through ball from Pedro ricocheted off Craig Dawson straight into the path of the fullback, who slotted home coolly into the bottom corner, doubling his side’s lead. Moses almost grabbed another goal a few minutes later with a driven shot from the edge of the box, but this time Foster was equal to the effort.
The second goal seemed to knock the stuffing out of West Brom, and it didn’t take long for Chelsea to press their advantage even further. It was Hazard who grabbed the goal, doubling his tally for the night, after a neat pass on the turn from Morata. The Belgian picked up the ball, cut onto his left foot at the edge of the box, and slammed a shot in at the near pose, leaving Foster rooted to the spot. It was a stunning effort, and really the final moment of quality in the game. Conte’s men continued their quest for more goals until the final whistle, but they came up empty, though the valuable three points had already been comfortably secured.
After losing two on the bounce in the league, Chelsea responded really well in this game, and looked convincing in their dominance. Olivier Giroud played well, and looks to be an excellent foil to Alvaro Morata, who also had a big impact when he came on. As the connection between Giroud and Hazard grows, this Blues side could become menacing once again in an attacking sense, and Antonio Conte will be equally pleased with the clean sheet from this game.
This result compounded West Brom’s problems, leaving them five points behind 19th place Stoke and seven from safety. Alan Pardew will face quite the uphill battle if he wants to keep the Baggies in the top flight, and on showings like this it doesn’t look as if there is much reason for optimism. Their inability to score enough goals, nor keep enough goals out, leaves the Baggies in a dire situation with just 11 games to go.
Chelsea: Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen (Cahill, 74’), Rudiger, Moses, Zappacosta, Kante, Fabregas; Pedro (Willian, 80’), Hazard, Giroud (Morata, 61’)
West Brom: Foster; Dawson, Hegazi, Evans, Gibbs; Phillips, Krychowiak, Barry (Yacob, 80’), Brunt (Burke, 45’); Sturridge (Rodriguez, 3’), Rondon
Goals: Hazard (1-0, 25’), Moses (2-0, 63’), Hazard (3-0, 71’)
Referee: Lee Mason
Yellow Cards: Evans (45+3’), Gibbs (49’)
Red Cards: None
Chelsea: Courtois 7; Azpilicueta 8.5, Christensen 7.5 (Cahill n/a), Rudiger 7, Moses 8.5, Zappacosta 7, Kante 7, Fabregas 7; Pedro 7 (Willian n/a), Hazard 9, Giroud 8 (Morata 8)
West Brom: Foster 6; Dawson 6, Hegazi 6, Evans 6, Gibbs 5.5; Phillips 5.5, Krychowiak 6, Barry 6 (Yacob n/a), Brunt 5 (Burke 6); Sturridge n/a (Rodriguez 6), Rondon 6