Saturday 22 September 2018

Three and easy as wasteful Baggies punished

Chelsea 3 West Brom 0

Victor Moses scores Chelsea’s second goal during his team’s victory against West Brom. Photo: Reuters
Victor Moses scores Chelsea’s second goal during his team’s victory against West Brom. Photo: Reuters

Jeremy Wilson

The performance might have again lacked conviction but the verdict from the Chelsea supporters remains unequivocal.

A sequence of consecutive Premier League defeats had been halted and Chelsea were back into the top four ahead of pivotal FA Cup and Champions League fixtures, but this match was still most notable for the booming chant of one single word. "Antonio," sung by the home fans in a clear and repeated message to owner Roman Abramovich that they are not ready to give up on their Premier League-winning manager.

Eden Hazard in action at Stamford Bridge during Chelsea’s victory over West Brom. Photo: Getty Images
Eden Hazard in action at Stamford Bridge during Chelsea’s victory over West Brom. Photo: Getty Images

Eden Hazard's match-winning performance also suggested that he shares this assessment, with the Belgian linking encouragingly with Olivier Giroud to put Chelsea ahead before cutting inside to deliver a breathtaking finish at Ben Foster's near post to secure what is only Antonio Conte's third win in 2018.

West Brom are past the point of taking positives from encouraging performances and while they did genuinely threaten Chelsea early in either half, the bottom line is that it is now only one win in 25 amid a five-point gap at the foot of the Premier League table.

Vulnerable

With Chelsea unusually vulnerable of late, Alan Pardew was very offensive with his West Brom line-up. Loan signing Daniel Sturridge started in attack alongside Salomon Rondon in a 3-5-2 formation and it was immediately clear that they would try to take the game to the home side in an attempt to exploit their bruised confidence.

Chelsea's Thibaut Courtois saves from West Brom's Craig Dawson. Photo: Reuters
Chelsea's Thibaut Courtois saves from West Brom's Craig Dawson. Photo: Reuters

The plan suffered a serious setback after just three minutes, with Sturridge landing awkwardly under little pressure and immediately signalling that his involvement had ended. It appeared to be a hamstring injury.

Jay Rodriguez, his replacement, soon had a sight of goal and, although the striker shot wide, Cesc Fabregas followed in with a late challenge that might just have resulted in a penalty on another day.

Matt Phillips's volleyed cross was then headed narrowly wide by Rondon.

A better chance followed when Victor Moses misjudged a headed clearance and, with Fabregas not tracking back, gifted Rodriguez a wonderful chance. The attacker, though, appeared shocked to suddenly find himself in so much space and pulled his finish wide.

West Brom's Salomon Rondon is tracked by Chelsea's Cesar Azpilicueta and Cesc Fabregas. Photo: Reuters
West Brom's Salomon Rondon is tracked by Chelsea's Cesar Azpilicueta and Cesc Fabregas. Photo: Reuters

Pedro and then Hazard presented chances for Giroud to score on his full Chelsea debut but, displaying a weakness that had so often frustrated Arsenal, his finishes lacked conviction.

However, it was not long before he did show the home fans what he does best. Hazard was causing increasing panic in the West Brom defence and, after gliding past one challenge, he played the ball into Giroud's feet.

The striker had a defender directly behind him and his back to goal, but his glancing assist was beautifully weighted for Hazard simply to continue his run and shoot powerfully beyond goalkeeper Ben Foster with his right foot.

With Hazard especially growing in confidence, Giroud's best chances were an attempted overhead kick and then a near-post header that flashed narrowly wide. The new signing, who was already wearing a bandage after an earlier head injury, then required lengthy treatment to his Achilles following Jonny Evans's tackle from behind.

Chelsea's Eden Hazard's free-kick is blocked by the West Brom wall. Photo: Reuters
Chelsea's Eden Hazard's free-kick is blocked by the West Brom wall. Photo: Reuters

There was sufficient discomfort to raise questions over whether he would re-emerge for the second half but the only change was to West Brom, with Pardew bringing on Oliver Burke to provide further attacking support.

The change worked and the visitors put Chelsea under a second period of pressure. Burke sprinted behind Davide Zappacosta down Chelsea's left and only a sliding tackle from Cesar Azpilicueta prevented the ball reaching Rondon on the edge of the six-yard box.

Rondon then simply shrugged off Andreas Christensen to force a low save from Thibaut Courtois. From the resulting corner, Evans had a free header that he directed wide.

Giroud, who was literally bloodied and bruised, then made way for Alvaro Morata to play his first game for almost a month.

The change was immediately followed by Chelsea's second, with Moses powering his way into the penalty area and then passing to Fabregas, whose attempted flick cannoned off Craig Dawson to dissect West Brom's defence. Moses had not stopped running and finished calmly past Foster.

Chelsea were finally comfortable and Hazard duly stepped up with a moment of brilliance to provide a gloss to the scoreline that the wider performance had barely deserved.

© Daily Telegraph, London

Telegraph.co.uk

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