Chelsea v West Bromwich Albion – Match Preview
If the history books are anything to go you’d be right in thinking the timing of Rafael Benitez’s midweek pontification was more than just a mere conincidence. After all, the last two Chelsea managers felt the ruthless nature of owner Roman Abramovich after defeats to West Brom. Why Benitez decided to press the self destruct button is clear but how his rant it will impact on his players and general mood around Stamford Bridge is another question. The Blues have slumped in recent weeks and two wins in their last six Premier League matches has placed their position in the top-four in real jeopardy. Distractions have been all too forthcoming but now an opportunity has arisen for Benitez to demonstrate his managerial nous, doubted by a large sections of the Chelsea support, and realign the focus of his players back to attaining their goal of Champions League football next season and break the Baggies curse. And possibly even prove a point to his many detractors.
One man assured of his job is Steve Clarke. He was a hugely popular member of the backroom staff at Chelsea during Jose Mourinho’s tenure and is likely to receive a warmer welcome than his opposite number when he returns to Stamford Bridge on Saturday. Unlike his former employers Clarke’s side are enjoying a stress free campaign and are chasing a third consecutive victory although one potential problem comes in the form of Peter Odemwingie. With Romelu Lukaku ineligible and Shane Long nursing an injury the Nigerian could ironically be handed the chance to resurrect his Albion career in West London following his deadline day attempts to force through a move to QPR. Clarke is aware his side need to improve on their dreadful record on the road if they are to keep their Europa League dream alive and knows the current storm in West London could work to his sides advantage.
Chelsea could recall Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilcueta. An ankle injury will prevent Yossi Benayoun from playing any part.
Romelu Lukaku will miss out for West Brom as he isn’t permitted to feature against his parent club.
What the managers said…
“‘If’ is not a thing for me now. I have confidence before the game. The team have trained well, as they have the majority of the time I’ve been here. I have read I had problems with the board, it’s not true. Yesterday I spoke with Ron and, today, we were joking and talking, having a normal conversation about football. I had no problem with the board, Michael Emenalo, Roman Abramovich, the players, what I want to do is best for team and the club.” Rafael Benitez insists everything is fine at Chelsea after his mid-week rant aimed at the clubs supporters and owner Roman Abramovich (London Evening Standard)
“I think it’s too early to start connecting me with Chelsea. There are a lot of managers that are out there who have a better case than me. Wherever I am on the bookmakers list is a good indication and I’m sure I’m not in the list at 50-1 even! Listen, you’ve hit me with a question that has come out of left field because I haven’t even thought about it. I’m not even a year into the job here. Up to now it has been a great season and I haven’t looked anywhere beyond that.” Steve Clarke played down talk of him taking over at Chelsea in the near future (Birmingham Mail)
Pre-Match Statistic: West Brom haven’t beaten Chelsea at Stamford Bridge since a 3-1 success all the way back in September 1978 – nearly 35 years!
Prediction: Chelsea 3-1 West Bromwich Albion