Chelsea made it nine wins in a row for the first time since 2007 with a hard-fought victory against determined West Brom.
Diego Costa’s goal with a quarter of an hour left, his 12th of the season, was all it needed in a cagey game that had just three shots on target between the sides.
Despite Chelsea dominating 68% of the possession, it looked like the winning streak would be over and the hosts would be left frustrated by a defensively-solid West Brom approach, but Costa took his moment to send his fans and his manager into delirium, and crucially his side back to the top of the table.
Chelsea have not lost a top-flight home match against West Brom since 1978, but it was a tepid first-half of possession but no clear-cut chances, a testament to West Brom’s shape and structure to nullify Chelsea.
The Baggies were content to let players like Cesar Azpilicueta on the ball, who could do not harm but play square balls, whilst still keeping the structure of an away side. One dangerous cross by Alonso was about as exciting as it started, and there was some good footwork bu Pedro but to no avail.
The only goal attempt so far was West Brom’s despite the hosts having all the ball, with Chris Brunt evading three challenges and curling one just wide. It had enough zip to make Courtois worried.
Rondon was then proving to be a handful against a Luiz, who had a momentary lapse in concentration when shepherding the ball out and Rondon pounced on the misjudgement to get a shot through Azpilicueta’s legs. Thankfully it flew wide of Courtois’ goal, but it was excellent centre-forward display.
Kante then fired a daisy-cutter which would have gone wide but for Pedro sticking out a leg to wrong-foot Foster, but the diversion was too strong and went wide of the other post. It would have been unlucky for the visitors to concede like this but it was an indication of how Chelsea might need to get the breakthrough.
Chelsea had recorded 203 passes within the first 36 minutes whilst West Brom were still in double figures, but nothing really was note-worthy. Pedro’s cross nearly found Costa’s head but the Spaniard was well-marked. Luiz at the other end had a couple of free-kick opportunities, one which flew over and one which was too low to concern Foster.
Would the game really spark into life in the second half?
Not with how slow West Brom were playing and their deliberate time-wasting.
Foster was talking circa 15 seconds with every restart as Mike Dean’s patience wore thin but his side had some opportunities which involved last-ditch challenges by Cahill.
Conte, sensing nothing was working, brought Willian on and shifted from 5-2-3 to 4-1-4-1 with Moses further forward.
But it was a later substitution — Fabregas for Moses — which proved decisive.
Fabregas’ pass should have been cleared by McAuley but Costa was harrying the defender on the right-wing and cut back. At full speed the Spaniard unleashed an excellent shot to send his side in front, much to the delight of Conte.
Chelsea have not lost from a winning position for 14 months, but Pulis was keen to try by bringing on Chadli and Robson-Kanu. Conte was equally keen to see this out by bringing on Ivanovic for Hazard, and the hosts stood firm, keeping an eighth clean sheet along the way.
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Man of the Match
DIEGO COSTA: One chance, one world-class finish from the left-foot after being totally exhausted of service all game and tremendously doubled-up on. It was a hopeful ball by Fabregas but the Spaniard out-muscled McAuley and then out-witted Foster to break the deadlock and it was a real test of his patience. For a man who still cannot speak English in post-match interviews, he is letting his feet do the talking and boy is it showing this season. 7/10
Conte knew this would not be easy: “For sure there was relief [to win], it was a tough game and we prepared for this situation. West Brom is a tough team, a physical team who are difficult to break down. It was a good win and now we must continue. We have won nine in a row which is fantastic because this league is very tough. We are working very well.”
Pulis was tactical in his approach and it nearly paid off: “I was happy all the way through the game. They play a different system to most teams and we’d worked on a structure to beat them. Our structure and organisation was very good [but] one mistake, one chance and the fella (Diego Costa) puts it away – that’s the difference in quality that separates the teams at the top.”