If Baggies fans are looking for positive omens ahead of this weekend’s visit of the Premier League champions, they need look no further than their manager, Tony Pulis.
It’s little to do with who he is, but more to do with his name. As bizarre and meaningless as it might be, Chelsea’s last seven competitive defeats in domestic football have been to clubs whose manager has a surname beginning with ‘P’. Starting with the defeat to Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City (3-0) last weekend, the run goes back to their last visit to the Hawthorns to take on Pulis’s Baggies in May (3-0), the FA Cup defeat to Phil Parkinson’s Bradford City (4-2) (pictured), the New Year’s Day loss to Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs (5-3), the defeat to Alan Pardew’s Newcastle United in December (2-1) and all the way back to Mourinho’s only Premier League home defeat to Gus Poyet’s Sunderland in April 2014 (2-1) and at Crystal Palace in March 2014 (1-0) then managed by, of course, Tony Pulis.
While that run ignores the defeats to Wenger’s Arsenal in the non-competitive Community Sheild and the Champions’ League defeats to Laurent Blanc’s Paris St-Germain and Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid, it is a remarkable set of results – the last domestic manager whose surname does not begin with the mythical ‘P’ to inflict a competitive defeat on Mourinho’s Chelsea was Paul Lambert when Villa beat Chelsea on 15th March 2014.
That aside, it is another ‘P’ who has been making the headlines in the run up to this game. Pedro (pictured) joined the Stamford Bridge outfit this week for £21 million having been linked with Manchester United for much of the summer, and he may well make his debut at the Hawthorns. He will offer another option to an already impressive front line, but based on their performances this season, it is Chelsea’s defence that needs some attention. Five goals conceded in two games is not what we have come to expect from a Mourinho side (although looking at the run of defeats, they have conceded three or more goals in the last four of them), and he has sought to address that with the signing of Baba Rahman from Augsburg earlier this week. Branislav Ivanović has struggled at right back so far this season with both Jefferson Montero of Swansea and City’s Kolorov/Sterling duo causing him all sorts of problems, and the general feeling is that César Azpilicueta will move to his more preferred right back position from the left, leaving Rahman to slot in at left back. It remains to be seen who will play in the middle of the back four – Gary Cahill seems to be sure of his place with John Terry, Kurt Zouma and, potentially, Ivanović himself vying to play alongside him.
For Albion, this week’s news has been dominated by the potential exit of Saido Berahino. Albion’s star striker has been courted all summer by Spurs, in the media at least, although they made their first bid just this week. That offer, believed to be around £15 million, was rejected outright by Jeremy Peace with a slightly ambiguous comment that the club have no wish to sell Berahino but one can never say ‘never’. To me, that means that it would take a very large offer for Albion to consider the sale, possibly in the region of £25 million, and, given Daniel Levy’s history in the transfer market, I’d be surprised if that is made any time soon. The concern is that, if an acceptable offer comes in on Transfer Deadline Day (1st September), would Peace still consider it?
It seems clear this week that the club are happy to sell Brown Ideye and Victor Anichebe, but I feel sure that Pulis wants to keep four strikers in the squad, so if Berahino were to go, we would potentially be looking for two new strikers. Moreover, Berahino is the only one who offers any pace, and pace is crucial to Pulis’s style of play.
That was shown at Vicarage Road last Saturday as, in the first half in particular, there was no pace to Albion’s game and we subsequently struggled to get out of our own half. By playing Lambert as a pseudo midfielder, Pulis robbed us of the chance to break at speed and left Berahino feeding off scraps. If you compare the midfield we played against Chelsea last season, to the one from last weekend, the difference is clear. Against Chelsea, we had Yacob, Fletcher, Brunt (Lescott was left back), Morrison and McManaman; at Watford, there was Yacob, Fletcher, Gardner, Morrison and Lambert. Only two players different, but a massive impact – Brunt might not be the quickest, but he is far more creative than Gardner, and McManaman is much more mobile that Lambert. There was an obvious improvement when McClean and Rondón (pictured) replaced Gardner and Lambert on Saturday – McClean at least tried to attack the Watford back line, and Rondón was also very positive.
Those changes were encouraging and, if Berahino hadn’t snatched at the late chance, Albion could well have come away with all three points. That would’ve been tough on Watford, but noone said that the Premier League was fair. Pulis’s selection was better than it was against Man City, but it was still not right – the team on the pitch ahead of Berahino’s substitution is perhaps much closer to what was needed, and it will be interesting to see which way he goes on Sunday.
Having gone through the history of the fixture in my match preview in May, I thought I would concentrate on some of those players who have called both the Hawthorns and Stamford Bridge their home ground.
26 players have been a player with both clubs with the most recent to join that list being the controversial Isiah Brown having made one subsitute Premier League appearance for both clubs. Interestingly, he was in Albion’s match day squad for the first time for the trip to Stamford Bridge in March 2013, but did not make it off the bench. He is currently on loan from Chelsea at Vitesse.
It remains to be seen whether 18-year-old Brown will ultimately become a star, but plenty of more well-known players have pulled on the stripes of Albion and the Chelsea blue. Another recent addition to the list is, of course, Romelu Lukaku, although he only made four starts and eleven substitute appearances for the Blues and never managed to find the net. And we cannot, of course, forget Nicolas Anelka, although his Chelsea record is somewhat more impressive with 47 goals from 184 appearances compared with 2 from 12 for the Baggies.
Going back in time, Neil Clement (pictured) joined Albion from Chelsea, intially on loan, in March 2000 as one of Gary Megson’s string of late signings that helped keep the Baggies in Division One. Clem went on to be a Baggies legend of recent years making 300 appearances scoring 26 times, many of them free kicks with that bullet of a left foot.
Older Baggies will remember another full back, Paddy Mulligan, who was part of Johnny Giles’s 1976 promotion winning side. The Irishman made 130 appearances for Albion, scoring just twice, between 1976 and 1978, before he was replaced by Brendan Batson at right back, and was in the side that lost the FA Cup Semi Final to Ipswich in 1978. Chelsea were his first English club when he joined them in October 1969 and he went on to make 79 appearances before moving to Crystal Palace in September 1972.
One of Paddy’s teammates in 1978 was goalkeeper, Tony Godden. Godden was an ever-present in the Baggies side for four seasons between 1977 and 1981 and, after spending some time on loan at Luton and Walsall, he was back between the posts for the 84/85 and 85/86 seasons at the Hawthorns, before he moved to Chelsea in March 1986. He made 326 appearances for the Baggies, but made just 37 for Chelsea before he moved to the other Blues, Birmingham City, in 1987.
Whether he played any part in Godden’s move to Chelsea, I’m not sure, but another famous name made the move in the opposite direction six months beforehand. Perhaps most remembered for scoring for Wrexham against Arsenal in the FA Cup in 1992, Mickey Thomas made Chelsea his sixth club when he joined them in January 1984 from Stoke City. He played 53 times for the west London outfit before joining Albion in September 1985, playing 23 times in six months before moving to Derby County.
Although he was known as a Spurs legend, hard man Graham Roberts made 95 appearances for Chelsea between 1988 and 1990, including the top-of-the-table Division Two clash on the last day of 1988 when he scored a last minute penalty to deny Albion a victory at Stamford Bridge. He moved to the Hawthorns in November 1990 and made 44 appearances for the the declining Baggies as they were relegated to Division Three before moving to Enfield Town in 1992.
Some of the other recognisable names on the list include the two Sinclairs, Scott and Frank, the two Cummingses (Shaun and Warren, although neither played in the Chelsea first team), Kenny Swain, David Speedie and Andy Townsend. Some other names that Albion fans will know well also have a connection with Chelsea – Cyrille Regis had a trial with Chelsea in the mid-seventies (one that got away, perhaps) and Bobby Gould, who played for Albion in the early seventies and returned as manager in 1991, was assistant manager at Chelsea to Geoff Hurst between 1979 and 1981. Hurst, of course, also played for Albion at the end of his career scoring twice in twelve appearances in Albion’s promotion season of 1975/76. And let’s not forget Roberto di Matteo who played 175 times for Chelsea, scoring 26 goals, before going on to manage both clubs winning the Champions League with Chelsea and promotion with Albion, although he lost 6-0 at Stamford Bridge in his first game as a Premier League manager.
A special mention must go to a true Albion legend who is no longer with us. Derek “The Tank” Kevan (pictured) was one of my mother’s favourite players in the great Albion side of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Although he joined Albion from Bradford Park Avenue in February 1953, he didn’t make his debut in the stripes until August 1955 but went on to make 291 appearances for the Baggies scoring 173 goals before he moved to second division Chelsea in March 1963. He played just seven times for the Blues, scoring once, but helped them gained promotion back to the top flight. Kevan died in January 2013.
Albion have no fresh injury worries, with Ben Foster their only absentee. Trying to second guess Tony Pulis as to the starting line-up, however, is a mug’s game based on the first two selections of the season. I guess you can probably guarantee that Myhill, Fletcher and Berahino will start, assuming the transfer speculation around our Burundi-born starlet doesn’t escalate too much further before Sunday, and I’d probably guess that Morrison, Brunt and Dawson would also be in the first eleven. The other five, however, are less certain. I’d like to think that he would not leave out Claudio Yacob again, which leaves two from McAuley, Olsson, Chester and Lescott at the back, unless he pushes Brunt further forward, with Gardner, McClean, McManaman, Lambert and Rondón those most likely to be contesting the remaining three spots.
Chelsea’s only injury worry appears to be Victor Moses, but as he is nowhere near the starting eleven, it makes little difference. As stated earlier, we may well save Azpilicueta switched to right back leaving the left back spot open for the new signing, Rahman, with two from Cahill, Terry, Zouma and Ivanović across the middle. Matić, Hazard and Costa are more than likely to start and we may well see Pedro make his Chelsea debut with two from Fàbregas, Willian and Ramires making up the midfield unless Mourinho has more faith in Loftus-Cheek. Ironically, had Fàbregas received the three-game ban that his “violent conduct” warranted for his red card at the Hawthorns in May, this would have his first game back – a bit of Mourinho whinging, however, and the suspension was reduced to one match.
I certainly don’t expect a repeat of the 3-0 scoreline in May as that was exacerbated by the sending-off of Fàbregas and the fact that the title was already won. However, Chelsea have looked far from convincing in all three games this season, if you include the Community Shield, and Albion may be able to take advantage. The 3-0 hammering at the Etihad will have hurt the self-styled “Special One”, and he will be determined to avoid another defeat. Chelsea’s attacking talent does mean that they are always likely to score, and with no goals yet this season for the Baggies, my head says a narrow win for the visitors. My heart, however, thinks we’ll just nick a point.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
18 May 2015 – Premier League
West Brom 3 (Berahino (2, 1 pen), Brunt)
Albion’s Record against Chelsea
|Premier League Record|