With Albion needing to average at least two points per game in their remaining nine fixtures to have a chance of maintaining their Premier League status, Sam Allardyce takes his team to one of the hardest places to go in England’s top flight at the moment.
Since Thomas Tuchel took charge at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea have won ten and drawn four of their fourteen games conceding just two goals in the process. At home, they are yet to concede a goal under the German with Wolves and Manchester United the only teams to leave with a point, each securing a goalless draw.
Given that the Baggies have scored just once in their last five games, it would be a major surprise if they were the first team to score against Tuchel’s Chelsea at the Bridge, and an even bigger shock if they were to take all three points. Furthermore, while the Baggies have beaten the Blues at the Hawthorns on three occasions in the Premier League, no Albion side has won at Stamford Bridge for more than 37 years.
Perhaps the one glimmer of home is that Tuchel was awarded the Manager of the Month Award for March on Friday, so perhaps the curse will strike! OK, maybe not.
While Premier League survival is undoubtedly beyond Albion, Big Sam will still be hoping to earn as many points as possible during the run in with the next target to beat the Baggies’ lowest Premier League points total of 26 from 2002/03.
Allardyce has been consistent in his team selection for the past few games and, while they have looked fairly secure at the back, the lack of attacking threat has been a particular concern. So far, he has resisted any temptation to change things in attacking areas with even substitutions coming too late in games for the players brought on to have much of an impact.
His selection may be influenced by when players return from international duty. Mbaye Diagne was in action in Senegal on Tuesday evening while both Dara O’Shea and Callum Robinson took part in Ireland’s disappointing 1-1 draw with Qatar in Hungary on the same night. O’Shea emerged as one of the Republic’s few positives of the international break playing in all three games while Robinson’s high point was a goal in the first of those as the Irish lost 3-2 in Serbia.
Okay Yokuşlu was another Baggie who had a good international break as he starred in Turkey’s successful start to their World Cup qualifying campaign. He played 90 minutes in all three matches as they won their first two games but threw away a two goal lead against Latvia to draw 3-3 in Istanbul on Tuesday.
Conor Gallagher was in action on Wednesday as England’s U21 side beat Croatia but failed to qualify from their European Championships group, while Kamil Grosicki came on as substitute at Wembley later that evening for his first senior action since Albion’s defeat at West Ham in January.
Sam Johnstone saw no action on his first England call up while Semi Ajayi was an unused substitute for both of Nigeria’s games. Meanwhile, Hal Robson-Kanu was sent home from the Wales camp at the beginning of the week for breaching COVID guidelines.
Allardyce will have had plenty of time to work with the remainder of the first team squad, so it will be interesting to see if he tries anything different to make Albion a little more potent. Admittedly, I’m not sure what he can do, but if he doesn’t change the approach, I can see Albion playing out the season with little more than the odd 0-0 draw and plenty of narrow defeats.
Thoughts are inevitably turning to next season and Big Sam has, this week, suggested that he would be prepared to stay on if Albion are relegated providing he is given the budget to enable an immediate return to the top flight. Who knows what the club hierarchy are planning, but they will surely need to see the team fighting to the end if they are to consider keeping Allardyce. So while Albion may be doomed already, he will still feel there is something to fight for.