A 3-0 win over the bottom placed team in the Premier League wouldn’t be a big deal in any other season. Or for any other club. But for a club like Chelsea, who are in some sort of crisis every other week, it was a result that they badly needed. Two embarrassing losses on the bounce had put Antonio Conte’s position under scrutiny and there were rumours that a defeat to West Brom would spell the end for Conte, like others before him. In the end, it wasn’t a brilliant performance but you could see the team growing in confidence as the goals started flowing.
Here are the talking points from a crucial win at home.
#1 Point of Reference
Antonio Conte gave Olivier Giroud his first start for Chelsea, with Hazard and Pedro alongside him. Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger started in defence with Cesar Azpilicueta. Marcos Alonso’s twisted ankle meant it was a choice between the new boy Emerson Palmieri or Davide Zappacosta. Conte chose the latter, with Zappacosta playing as an inverted wingback, if such a position exists. That alone caused a few groans when the lineups were announced, with most people looking forward to watching Emerson do what he was brought in for – deputise for Marcos Alonso. Nevertheless, with no Bakayoko, Fabregas was the creator in midfield with Kante doing his usual thing. Having a proper striker made a huge difference, as expected.
#2 On Shaky Ground
But just playing a striker is not the solution to the nervousness that has gripped the whole team lately. West Brom had more than one opportunity to open the scoring and let the crowd turn on the players, but Jay Rodriguez couldn’t aim at the goal when clean through. Solomon Rondon missed a couple of headers after losing Christensen. Would a better team have punished Chelsea? Perhaps. But when the chips are down, sometimes you need a bit of luck to get going again. That, and a bit of skill.
#3 Good Feet For A Big Man
Michy Batshuayi has scored three goals since he left Chelsea on loan. His replacement, Olivier Giroud, has scored none. But that’s not the only reason why he was brought in. As a target man, his primary goal is to bring others into play and get into positions where he could be found from a cross. At least that’s what it says in the manual. But Giroud brings so much more than that. He has the strength, but also the subtlety, the flicks, the deft touches that the players around him love. Chelsea’s first goal came from a combination of his hold-up play and his vision. Hazard played the ball to him, Giroud took one touch and rolled it into Hazard’s path, who finished the move. The French international had a couple chances to score himself, but on one occasion his shot was too weak and on another, he went for the spectacular when a simpler alternative was available. Overall, it looked like he combined well with other attackers and seems to be exactly the sort of striker Conte was looking for.
#4 Garden Of Eden
Another day, another Man of The Match performance from Eden Hazard. Two terrific goals – the second one was a corker – made it six goals and one assist in his last six games in all competitions. He was at an altogether different level against the Baggies. In this sort of form, he is not just the best player at Chelsea, but arguably in the top three in the Premier League. It is an absolute pleasure and a privilege watching him strut his stuff in blue. Now let’s get that contract signed, eh?
#5 Go Big Or Go Home
This is the start of an important and very tough period of games for the Blues. After playing Hull City in the FA Cup, Barcelona visit the Bridge in the Round of 16 in the Champions League. Then, it’s the small matter of Manchester United in the league, then Manchester City and then Chelsea are off to Barcelona for the return leg. Thankfully, Alvaro Morata has returned from his injury and made an appearance off the bench against West Brom. Alonso should also be fit by then, and hopefully everyone else will keep their hamstrings safe and sound.
Chelsea play Hull City in the FA Cup 5th Round next, with most of the starters expected to get a rest. It should also be a good game to hand a debut to Emerson and perhaps play Callum Hudson-Odoi from the start. We’ll see.