Can Antonio Conte avoid the curse of West Bromwich Albion? That’s the big question going into Monday night when West Brom travel to Stamford Bridge.
Poor results against West Brom have led to the downfall of Chelsea managers of the past. Andre Villas-Boas’ time as Chelsea manager ended after a 1-0 defeat to West Brom, and the following season, his replacement, Roberto Di Matteo’s last Premier League match in charge was a 2-1 defeat to West Brom.
Antonio Conte hopes to avoid that same fate after two consecutive losses by a three-goal margin, but his side will have to play markedly better on Monday night than they did against Bournemouth and Watford.
Fortunately for Chelsea, some the recent injury and fitness concerns are starting to disappear, and after giving the squad three days off, Conte will have almost a full squad available for selection, with only Alvaro Morata absent with a back injury and question marks over the fitness of Andreas Christensen.
Despite the Blues getting back key squad members, West Brom could prove to be difficult opponents. It’s taken two months, but the Baggies fortunes have improved under Alan Pardew, as has their style of play.
Tony Pulis was sacked back in November on the back of poor results coupled with the supporters not enjoying the style of football that was on display. Pardew took over at the end of November and struggled a bit to improve West Brom’s season.
But since the turn of the year, something has clicked. A simple 2-0 win away to Exeter in the FA Cup led to wins at home to Brighton and away to Liverpool and a 1-1 draw away to Everton.
They have lost their last two fixtures, a close home defeat to Southampton and an almost inevitable defeat away to Manchester City.
Under Pardew, West Brom are scoring more goals as of late, and the addition of Daniel Sturridge on loan hasn’t hurt them one bit. They may not be as compact and tough to beat as under Pulis, but they definitely are capable of scoring enough from open play to win.
For Chelsea, a sluggish start could be their downfall. Chelsea need to come out and play with an intensity at home, if only to stave off any sort of nervous energy from the supporters. The longer the game stays goalless, the more restless the crowd will become and the more confident West Brom will be that they can get a result.
Conte was granted a stay by the board after the 4-1 defeat at Watford. A third consecutive defeat, and a defeat in front of the home supporters at that, and the board will have a difficult decision to make, especially with the Champions League fixture against Barcelona coming next Tuesday.