Toothless Chelsea Fall to Inspired Baggies
On Saturday afternoon, West Bromwich Albion continued their impressive home form this season with a 2-1 victory over a Chelsea side that is struggled for form in the league as of late. Goals from Shane Long and Peter Odemwingie sealed the fate of the Blues, as Roberto Di Matteo’s side have taken just 4 of a possible 12 points from their last 4 league matches, prompting suggestions that the November struggles have once again reared their ugly head.
Mindful of the travels of many of his players due to international fixtures last Wednesday, Di Matteo elected to give starts to Victor Moses, Daniel Sturridge, and Oriol Romeu while resting the likes of Oscar, Juan Mata, and Ramires ahead of Tuesday’s crucial Champions League match against Juventus in Turin.
The gamble initially appeared to pay off with Chelsea much the better side in the opening exchanges. After some nice combination play 7 minutes in from Sturridge and Moses, Ryan Bertrand’s shot from 12 yards out was cleared off the line, preventing the opening goal. Just seconds later, Chelsea were denied a penalty shout when Eden Hazard’s shot appeared to strike the arm of Jonas Olsson’s upper arm, but the referee was unconvinced and waved play on.
The Baggies needed no such luck just three minutes later when Shane Long ghosted in on the wrong side of David Luiz to meet James Morrison’s cross and give the hosts an unexpected early lead.
The goal gave the hosts added impetus and began to grab a foothold in a match that saw Chelsea largely dominate possession in the first half, but were unable to break down the staunch Baggies’ defence. The equaliser came just 6 minutes before the half as Cesar Azpilicueta teased a cross to the back post that Hazard headed in off Billy Jones’ shoulder and gave Chelsea something to build on.
Sturridge, largely on the peripheries in the first half, started the second half in a more central position and had a lovely chance to give Chelsea the lead just after the break, but Boaz Myhill was able to palm away a vicious strike that was really hit right at him.
West Brom made the Blues pay for the profligacy, though some more shoddy defensive work contributed to the goal. Shane Long’s cross on 50 minutes found the head of Peter Odemwingie who evaded Ryan Bertrand at the near post to flick the ball past a hapless Petr Cech to fire the hosts ahead.
Di Matteo then began to show his desperation, bringing on Oscar for Oriol Romeu and Juan Mata for the largely ineffective Fernando Torres. That brought Sturridge into a central striker’s role, but it was Moses whose danger brought the second denied penalty shout of the match. As Moses skipped by the challenges of Zoltan Gera and Liam Ridgewell, Claudio Yacob appeared to obstruct him with a body check in the box, which the referee once again wasn’t convinced of.
Sturridge was presented with two great chances to rescue a point at the end, but was unable to find the net. In the 77 minute, Mata’s brilliant through ball sent Sturridge clean through on goal, but his strike was only able to find the gloves of the keeper as he opted for power and shot right at him. In stoppage time, Sturridge once again found himself alone in the penalty area after a brilliant flick by Oscar, but seemed to be caught in two minds, with his shot/cross drifting wide of the post while Mata slid in.
This wasn’t the match the Blues expected, though West Brom fully deserved their win. Next on the horizon is a dangerous trip to Turin in a match that Chelsea must not lose if they expect their Champions League dreams to continue.