Chelsea’s procession as Premier League champions continues on Monday night when the Blues travel to the Midlands and pay a visit to West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns. The previous meeting between these two sides took place back on 22 November at Stamford Bridge, which saw the Blues run out 2-0 winners via goals from Diego Costa and Eden Hazard. Much has changed since that time. Chelsea were looking very much like the unstoppable force and talk was about going unbeaten in the season, which proved in later months to be unreasonable, and West Brom, despite being 13th in the table at that stage, had recorded just 13 points from 11 matches.
Since that time, West Brom have through a massive transformation. Alan Irvine was sacked just before the new year and in came Tony Pulis to rescue the Baggies season. Pulis pulled a masterful escape last year in similar circumstances when he took over at Crystal Palace after the sacking of Ian Holloway. Pulis has done the same this season, leading West Brom to 28 points from their next 24 matches, giving them 41 points on the season and ensuring that The Hawthorns will see Premier League football again next year.
For Chelsea, this match really has very little meaning. West Brom will be keen to give the home support one last show in their final home match of the season, but for the Blues, it’s another match en route to receiving the title after next week’s match against Sunderland. Despite what has turned into a procession as champions – in a season where they were the favourites from day one in the football betting at Freebetsodds, one of UK leading providers, and other bookmakers – clinching the title early has had its benefits. Diego Costa’s hamstring problems have lingered for much of this season, and with the title wrapped up, it should give him a nice, long period of rest to hopefully heal that problem before next season.
Likewise, a thigh injury picked up by Oscar leading up to the Liverpool match could be a blessing in disguise. The Brazilian’s performance has tailed off badly in the second half of this season, but it is important to note that he’s played almost year-round since the Olympics back in 2012, and perhaps even longer since the last Copa America was played back in 2011. His injury has kept him from being called up for this year’s edition of that tournament, so hopefully his rest will benefit him at the start of next season.
The other positive for Chelsea is that, more than likely, we’re going to see some more of the youngsters play against the Baggies. Against Liverpool, Ruben Loftus-Cheek was given his full debut in a 60-minute appearance last Sunday. While not necessarily the most spectacular of debuts, he showed why he could be one of the youth team members to finally make the breakthrough, demonstrating a composure on the ball to keep possession ticking over and also showing an ability to break up play and make a tackle. If Jose Mourinho is to be believed, Izzy Brown may be one of the next to make his first appearance for the club, while Nathan Ake may also get a run out Monday night.
If winning the title early ensured a rest for one or two players who desperately needed it, it also could give Chelsea supporters a glimpse of that trophy-winning youth side and the potential future of a young player finally making an impact on the first team since John Terry did it many years ago.