Yes, I know this column is a bit late, but Friday press conferences aren’t so nice for me, given the five-hour time difference. I had to wait for it because there were two injuries over the International trips that could affect the match at the Hawthorns. Luckily, both Daniel Sturridge and Didier Drogba have been passed fit, and life goes on.
The positive is that Chelsea are meeting a West Brom side who aren’t in the greatest run of form, either. Four wins, four losses, six draws in their last 10 matches is hardly something to write home about, but this is a Roy Hodgson team, and there are a few concerns to worry about in the West Brom lineup. So, here we go.
1) Peter Odemwingie is February Player of the Month, and that should be a concern for anyone facing West Brom.
The one area that has given the Baggies problems all season is a lack of goals. 33 goals in 26 matches is hardly prolific, and Odemwingie is responsible for about a third of that total. It’s no coincidence that West Brom’s early season problems coincided with Odemwingie’s injury, and for a player that relies so much on quickness and pace, knee and ankle injuries take awhile to recover from.
Now he’s back and appears to be regaining form, having scored 5 goals in the last month with all five coming in the last two matches versus Wolves and Sunderland.
Suffice it to say, he’s the dangerman for the Baggies, and he’ll be a test for a backline that has sometimes appeared to struggle against pace, just ask Javier Hernandez.
2) West Brom play a hybrid of 2 formations, depending on who’s fit.
Last season, with Roberto Di Matteo at the helm, West Brom began playing a 4-2-3-1 system employing a play-making number 10 in the hole and attempting to play more on the ground than in the air. Hodgson hasn’t strayed too far from that, but he’s been hampered by a long-term injury to Simon Cox and the indifferent form of Graham Dorrans.
The modification has been to play a second striker in the hole, often a quicker one, and a striker up top on his own. However, that formation, despite looking like a 4-4-1-1 actually attacks as a two-striker system, and defends like a 4-5-1.
By that, I mean that when West Brom attacks, the man in the hole joins the lone striker to form a 4-4-2, but when they defend, they defend in two banks of 4, with the man in the hole dropping deep to press.
It seems to be working for them because despite their lack of goals, they have one of the better defensive records among the teams in the bottom half of the table, with only 29 goals conceded.
3) West Brom will be buoyed by the return of Paul Scharner.
I’ve always maintained that the match is won and lost depending on who does a better job controlling the midfield. So far this season, we’ve lost more midfield battles than we’ve won, which is surprising, considering how we often employ an extra midfielder. Scharner’s return is a boost because it gives West Brom another midfielder, other than James Morrison, who’s willing to put in a tackle, work for the team, and can still pick out a pass.
That can be problematic for us, as our midfield has shown an inability to break down teams who play tight in the midfield. In addition, Scharner’s one of the leaders of that team, and his return could see a refreshed mentality in a match that West Brom are probably not expecting much from.
4) One positive for us, West Brom have a woeful record at home.
Woeful really doesn’t describe in it entirely. This season at the Hawthorns, they’ve won 3, lost 8, and drawn 2. The only teams that have worse records at home are Blackburn and Bolton. Both are in the relegation zone. No one is quite sure why West Brom are so bad at home, least of all this writer. They’ve scored 13 and only conceded 16, so the stats don’t really show that they’ve played terribly bad, but they’ve also lost 7 one-goal games, with 1-2 or 0-1 scorelines. You could argue that they’ve just been unlucky at home.
5) Final point, for Chelsea, Frank Lampard and Andre Villas-Boas must each swallow their pride for the good of the team.
It’s not just because Lampard is a club legend and all, but it’s what he brings to the side that the team seems to lack without him. Forget the goals, forget the late runs into the box, what Lampard brings that Raul Meireles seems to lack at times, is smart distribution from the midfield.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that our best performance in a few matches came because of Lampard being on the pitch for the full 90. I think, at times, Lampard gets too worried about being substituted that he doesn’t always give a full effort in closing down. But what he does bring is a much quicker distribution from deeper in the midfield and a more accurate passing range than Meireles has shown lately.
Watching back the Bolton match, I was amazed at how many of Lampard’s switch passes found their target in stride with a chance to run at the back line. I think it improved the pace of play and helped us maintain possession a bit better. One thing that our midfield has been guilty of is conceding possession cheaply, but I thought, at least against Bolton, that Lampard was a key player in keeping the ball retention going.
For this match, I’m predicting that we win 2-1. I just have a feeling that we have a couple of goals in us, but I don’t think we’ll be going full-out. The FA Cup 4th round replay match at St. Andrews should be in the back of the players’ minds, but I think we’ll do just enough to get out with a win.