Preview: Chelsea, West Brom chasing points

Antonio Conte Chelsea

Premier League champions Chelsea welcome West Brom to Stamford Bridge on Monday with both teams needing a result for very different reasons.

Premier League
12 February 2018
Gameweek 27
Kick-off: 22H00 (GMT+2)
Venue: Stamford Bridge

Referee: L. Mason
Assistants: H. Lennard, M. Wilkes
Fourth official: S. Attwell

Head-to-head summary:

TEAM MATCHES WIN DRAW LOSS

Chelsea 138 61 35 42
West Brom 138 42 35 61

Previous encounter:

West Brom 0-4 Chelsea 18/11/17 (Premier League)

Chelsea goalscorers: A. Morata (17′), E. Hazard (23′, 62′), M. Alonso (38′)

Players to watch:

The Blues’ big-name players need to step up after losing their last two league encounters emphatically. Only Eden Hazard can hold his head high after contributing four goals in his last five outings across all competitions.

With Albion providing an aerial presence both in defence and attack, Olivier Giroud could be handed his first start for the west Londoners, after making his debut off the bench at Vicarage Road last time out.

The Baggies have the ability to cause problems from set-pieces and they could be in business if Chris Brunt and James McClean are given time and space to provide the ammunition from the flanks.

Jay Rodriguez’s brace against Liverpool in the FA Cup will have given him confidence, with the striker having scored four goals in his last six appearances.

Team form and manager quotes:

The Blues are looking to bounce back from successive defeats against Bournemouth (3-0) and Watford (4-1) which has seen them drop to fifth in the league standings, 22 points adrift of runaway leaders Manchester City.

Antonio Conte’s side has now lost three of their last four games in all competitions, with their run in the EFL Cup coming to an end in the semi-finals after being beaten 2-1 by Arsenal in the second leg on January 24.

However, Conte believes their recent poor run of poor form has been blown out of proportion, partly due to City’s flying start to the season, while the Italian claimed that the speculation surrounding his future at the club hardly helped matters.

“We are talking about a team that is [fifth] in the league, that is preparing to face the game against Barcelona. We are in the FA Cup, and we reached the semi-finals in the Carabao Cup,” Conte told the assembled media.

“I think we understand that, when you lose two games in a row, the situation is not simple. But maybe we are increasing the difficulty of this team [recovering].

“Because it seems like we are fighting for the relegation zone. There are a lot of rumours and speculation, despite [the fact that] we are keeping our expectations.

“I don’t think that anyone trusted us to win the title this season. There were two teams fighting for the title, both from Manchester. Also last season, we started behind [them].

“For this reason, there are too many speculations around this club, around me, around this team. I think that, maybe, you have to find a bit more balance. I understand that we have to live with this pressure, and it’s OK for me. It’s OK for me and my players.”

The Baggies, meanwhile, are firmly rooted to the foot of the table, five points behind 19th-placed Stoke, after suffering back-to-back defeats against the Citizens (3-0) and Southampton (3-2).

Albion finally snapped an abysmal 20-match winless streak when they beat Brighton 2-0 on January 13, before holding Everton to a 1-1 draw at Goodison Park, but they now head to the capital desperately hoping to prevent a third straight loss.

WBA boss Alan Pardew insists his players are up for the challenge of a tough relegation scrap in the final 12 games, with every point crucial in their bid to stay in the top flight.

“We can look at games after and say ‘okay, we have a decent run of games’ but we need to put some points on the board,” Pardew said in his pre-match press conference.

“It’s been one of those weeks where we’ve had to reposition ourselves in our minds and say ‘we really are going to carry the fight’ and the first port of call is going to be Chelsea.”

Team news:

The hosts continue to be without striker Alvaro Morata, who is battling to shake off a back problem. Midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko is also unavailable as he serves a one-match ban for his sending-off against the Hornets.

New signing Olivier Giroud is in line to make his first start for the Blues, while defender Andreas Christensen (hamstring) will be assessed closer to kick-off.

The visitors are boosted by the return of defenders Jonny Evans (back), Kieran Gibbs (hamstring) and holding midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak (leg), with the trio having missed the loss to the Saints.

However, Pardew remains without midfield duo Jake Livermore (hamstring), James Morrison (Achilles) and winger Nacer Chadli (hip).

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