Chelsea 2 West Brom 5
Well there is a headline I never thought I’d write – got to love a bit of alliteration!
Two things to take from watching Albion win at Chelsea – Joe Cole doesn’t seem to know the difference between Diangana and Diagne but can’t pronounce either, and Glenn Hoddle’s research needs some work given he thought that Albion have been playing with a back five in recent games!
Seriously, though, what a performance from the Baggies. Thomas Tuchel may have pointed to the red card for Thaigo Silva when Chelsea were 1-0 up, but Albion were desperately unfortunate to be a goal down and I feel that they would have won the game against eleven albeit perhaps not as handsomely. Furthermore, Thiago was perhaps fortunate not to receive a straight red for his pull back on Pereira that brought the first yellow given that Albion’s Brazilian was about to pull the trigger from the edge of the box. Having been out for ten games, Tuchel should maybe have thought twice before bringing him back into the side, particularly given his horror show at the Hawthorns earlier in the season!
Such hypothetical analyses are meaningless, however, and the fact remains that Allardyce’s team thoroughly deserved their victory. If Tuchel thought that the Premier League was easy having been unbeaten in his first ten games conceding just two goals, he received a proper wake-up call today – Chelsea were sloppy, but Albion’s front-foot approach forced many of the errors that the hosts made at the back and, for once, they were able to capitalise with some fantastic finishing.
It looked as if the luck would be against Albion once again. Johnstone’s save of Alonso’s free kick pushed the ball onto the post but it fell kindly to Pulisic who managed to get to the ball ahead of Furlong to poke it home. They then lost first Dara O’Shea and, then, Branislav Ivanović to injury. The Serb’s injury perhaps forced Allardyce’s hand into a change that he may have made much later. With Conor Gallagher unable to play against his parent club, Big Sam had opted to start with a back three (something that Hoddle evidently thought we did all the time) but, with Chelsea down to ten by the time Ivanović went off, he made the bold choice to bring on Callum Robinson and switch to a back four, and boy did the young Irish international repay him.
The Baggies’ equaliser was surely something that had been practised on the training field. The ball played back to Johnstone who was well out of his area with plenty of Albion players forward – Pereira had dropped deep enough to beat the offside trap and Johnstone’s measured ball over the top was perfect, the Brazilian’s finish a delight as he lobbed Mendy with aplomb.
Pereira had been off the boil for some weeks, and a couple of his early set pieces in this match were disappointing, but that goal gave him confidence and, suddenly, the Pereira we all love was back.
His second was equally well-worked. Albion pressed Chelsea into giving the ball away again and after Diagne fed the ball to Pereira, the Brazilian took the ball to the right with Matt Phillips playing a key role as he shielded Alonso from the ball, before feinting to shoot with his right only to thread the ball through the three Chelsea defenders into the bottom corner with his left. Two goals in first half stoppage time and the Baggies had turned it around.
Of course, we all remembered that the Baggies led Chelsea 3-0 at half time in the reverse fixture back in September, and still failed to win, so no one was counting any chickens just yet. The hosts looked brighter after the break with Kovačić much improved and Mason Mount having been introduced from the bench. Albion had one or two sloppy moments that almost let Chelsea in, but they always looked dangerous on the break and Robinson scored the vital fourth goal of the match when he made it 3-1 with a sumptuous volleyed finish from 16 yards just after the hour mark.
Tuchel’s team looked to be losing heart and kept giving the ball away in midfield, and Albion stretched their lead with another quick break as Robinson set Townsend through on the left – he back-heeled it to Pereira who laid the ball across the edge of the area for Diagne to fire home his second Albion goal.
The Baggies were three goals ahead with twenty minutes left – surely they couldn’t throw it away from here. Moments later, however, Mount made it 4-2 and the hearts of Albion fans everywhere would have been fluttering. Chelsea had a couple of chances, with Zouma missing the best when he fired over from a few yards at the back post, but the Baggies ultimately saw it out fairly comfortably.
In stoppage time, Callum Robinson moved into second place in the Albion Premier League scoring chart as he scored his second of the game and Albion’s fifth with a delightful dinked finish after being put through by Pereira. Robinson has only scored in two league games this season and all of his Premier League goals have come against Chelsea – four for the Baggies this season and one for Sheffield United in 2019.
However, the star of the show was undoubtedly Matheus Pereira with two goals and two assists. If this marks a return to form that he can maintain for the remainder of the season, perhaps Albion do still have a faint hope of avoiding relegation.
This was by far the most impressive performance of Albion’s season and, while there have been encouraging displays in the last couple of months, this was the first time that they have taken their chances and secured the three points they deserved. It is almost certainly too late, but eight more performances of that calibre, and they might be in with a shout.
Southampton are next up in nine days’ time, and another three points and maybe the hope will start to come back. However, like three years ago, this recovery looks to be too late but we can, at the very least, aim to go down fighting.
And if it is the start of a miraculous rising from the dead, it is at least well-timed.