That’s more like it. Four goals without reply, a marvellous performance from the main man and another step towards the end of Pulisball. This was a performance to savour, with Chelsea blowing away the opposition in the first half and landing another blow when they were begging for mercy.
Here are the talking points from the 4-0 thrashing of West Bromwich Albion.
#1 Tactics With Tony
Not Pulis, but Antonio. With the 3-4-3 increasingly being countered by opponents, Antonio Conte has started using the 3-5-2 as his primary formation these days. It was the case against Manchester United and Chelsea started in a 3-5-2 formation against West Brom too. The three in midfield is the key here. Chelsea now have a trio of midfielders with distinct skill sets and playing all three together produces an output that is more than the sum of its parts. Kante is the safety blanket, Bakayoko the box-to-box marauder and Fabregas the conductor. That midfield proved too strong to handle for West Brom who resorted to persistent fouling, first with Barry and then Yacob in the second half, doing little else other than clattering into the nearest Chelsea player each time they went for the ball.
#2 Eden Hazard – Beast Mode
It’s fascinating how an incident can change the course of the game. In the first half, Hazard was ”tackled” by Barry and he went down, but West Brom refused to put the ball out of play and their fans chose to boo the Belgian. Hazard is usually not one to hold a grudge and when he suffers a bad foul, he tends to slide back into his shell. Not this time, though. Barry’s misdemeanour acted as a trigger and from then on, Eden Hazard was a different beast. He played like a man on a mission, shooting with a ferocity rarely seen and even handing out a bit of payback of his own later in the game. For his first goal, when he rounded the ‘keeper he could have rolled it for Morata but displayed a killer instinct that is often eclipsed by his selflessness. Eden has always been urged by his coaches to be more aggressive, go for the jugular whenever he can, but with little success. This could be the first glimpse of a player moving up a level.
#3 Clean Sheet On Repeat
David Luiz made some progress this week, making it to the bench from his perch in the stands. However, his body language during the warmup showed a player who might have already decided his time is up. A disinterested Luiz could be seen warming up with his hands in his pockets, barely making an effort. It’s a good thing that Christensen has seamlessly stepped into the defence which has now kept another clean sheet with him in the starting lineup. The young Dane has been a calm and composed figure in defence, keeping out Luiz and fellow newcomer, Rudiger. Even Cahill is no longer stands out for all the bad reasons. A rotated lineup in the midweek Champions League fixture against Qarabag might offer some respite to Luiz, but it might be a while before he starts in the Premier League again.
#4 The Maestro
Cesc Fabregas was involved in three of Chelsea’s four goals against West Brom. Unlike the beginning of the season when he was becoming a liability, the presence of two midfielders who shoulder the defensive burden allows Fabregas to inflict damage to the opposition through his most potent weapon – passing. His understanding with Hazard and Morata is getting better, as demonstrated by Hazard’s first goal. Eden Hazard started his run as soon as Fabregas looked for a pass. The pass found Morata, whose clever flick left the entire West Brom defence facing the wrong way while Hazard latched on to the ball, rounded the ‘keeper and finished the move. The midfield of Fabregas, Kante and Bakayoko certainly holds a lot of promise going forward. Throw Drinkwater into the mix and we’ve got all the bases covered.
#5 Dynamic Duo
Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata are the two strikers in the new 3-5-2 formation. Eden no longer sticks to the flanks, but roams in the central areas just behind Morata and he certainly seems to relish it. His goal-bound shot was parried by Foster, which was tapped into the net from an angle by Morata. As mentioned earlier, Morata’s flick to release Hazard was exquisite, the Spaniard well aware of his partner’s run. The two working in tandem, with Fabregas pulling the strings and Bakayoko charging into the box can be quite a handful for most defences.
With four wins in a row, Chelsea are in good spirits as they travel to Baku to play Qarabag in the Champions League. Expect some rotation, as Conte tries to keep is best players fresh for the Liverpool game.