Jose Mourinho will have a welcome reunion with his former assistant manager on Saturday, as Chelsea welcome West Bromwich Albion to Stamford Bridge. This will mark the first meeting between the former Chelsea number two and his boss since Mourinho left Chelsea in 2007. Since that time, Clarke has had stints as an assistant at Watford and Liverpool, but will be keen to show Mourinho how he’s progressed as a manager at West Brom by attempting to break Mourinho’s unbeaten record at Stamford Bridge.
That will not be an easy task, as the Baggies have not won at the Bridge in their last seven visits, though at The Hawthorns, they have successfully presided over defeats prior to the sackings of both Andre Villas-Boas and Roberto Di Matteo. A point for West Brom would be a big boost to a younger side who are coming off a 2-0 win over Crystal Palace after getting taken to the cleaners by a rampant Liverpool side.
For Jose Mourinho, getting back to winning ways in the Premier League will be important with a 5-point gap having opened between the Blues and the league leaders Arsenal. The display at Newcastle last week infuriated the manager to the point where he made six changes, one forced on him by injury, in the midweek against Schalke. The Blues came out 3-0 winners again, so it will be interesting to see whom he selects for this match. With only Fernando Torres out, he’ll have to decide whether to persist with the hard-working display of the 11 he played against Schalke or play the 11 that did so well against Manchester City, of which some faltered last weekend.
This West Brom team isn’t the same surprising force it was last season, but they’re still very dangerous.
The dangerous thing about West Brom is that they have a very good, experienced defence, but they have a lot of younger, inconsistent players in attack. Their defensive record is solid, having conceded just 10 in the league (Chelsea have conceded 8), but it’s their attack only scoring 10 goals that’s the real concern for Steve Clarke. This lack of consistency is shown by a team who went to Old Trafford and won 2-1, but failed to score a single goal against Fulham and Stoke City, resulting in two 0-0 draws.
With 13 points, the Baggies have had a good season, but they’re lacking that punch up front, especially since Shane Long has managed to forget how to score and Markus Rosenberg hasn’t been much of a factor since his arrival. Their leading scorer is a youngster, Saido Berahino with 6 goals in 9 appearances, but the question will be whether or not he can continue to score goals, especially since his more experienced strike partners have been failing in front of goal. It’s no secret that Clarke wanted to bring Romelu Lukaku back for a second loan spell, and it’s easy to see why.
Steve Sessegnon is their dangerman, but he’s another one who lacks consistency.
The biggest question with Sessegnon hasn’t been his talent. At his best, he’s one of the most dynamic number 10’s in the league, capable of both scoring and creating goals. However, what is sometimes lacking in the Frenchman’s game is the willingness and the motivation to play week in and week out.
At Sunderland last season, a team that was in need of invention and creativity, Sessegnon flitted in and out of games in wide positions and rarely tracked back to defend. Sometimes he was very involved in play, and sometimes he just simply ambled about the pitch. It led to Paolo Di Canio moving him back to the central areas, but eventually he succumbed to injury.
Make no mistake about it though, if he’s on, he’s one of the most complete number 10’s in the league capable of anything. But if he’s on an off day, he’s a liability defensively and will disappear from matches. That hasn’t happened all that often this season, but if the Blues can figure out which Sessegnon is playing, there’s one less threat in attack and one less defender on the counterattack.
What has happened to Claudio Yacob?
At the start of last season, Yacob looked like the bargain of the season, arriving on a free transfer. However, by the end of the season, he looked like either the matches or the physicality and drained him and his influence waned. When we first encountered him last season at the Hawthorns, he was immense in breaking up the play, being physical when he needed to, and giving visions of a version of Javier Mascherano. However, since then, either the league has found out his weaknesses or he was simply punching above his weight back then.
The one thing about Yacob is that he loves a challenge and sometimes in going for the ball, he leaves his defence exposed by being out of position. That gung-ho mentality when challenging for the ball has also seen him pick up his share of yellow cards, but it does stamp authority on the match.
The key to Yacob’s game is to get him to commit to winning the ball and basically not letting him get it. Simplicity, yes, but I’m talking more about quicker passes and trickier players getting the best of him. Last season, he was able to cause havoc against both Oscar and Juan Mata by simply bullying them both off the ball. Given another season for Oscar, I don’t expect him to do that this season, and I expect Yacob to have a more physical challenger on his left in Andre Schurrle for this match.
Simply put, Yacob is the enforcer in front of the back four, but has been lacking in consistent form since we saw him the first time last season.
Will David Luiz return to the team any time in the near future?
As much as David Luiz means to the team in terms of potential and being a lovable character, you do have to wonder how much faith Mourinho really has in him right now. Against Newcastle, he was one of the players that woefully underperformed, being caught out by Loic Remy numerous times on the break and trying 40-yard balls to split the defence that only ended up being cleared right back to him.
The strange thing about Luiz is that he doesn’t play this way for Brazil at all. With Brazil, he plays a much more reserved game, occupying the spot next to Thiago Silva and cutting out most of the theatrical and swashbuckling play that he displays for Chelsea. The problem for Luiz is that the latter will not sit well with his manager because Mourinho likes his defenders to be defenders, though he doesn’t mind if they can pass (see Ricardo Carvalho). The problem is that they have to be smart with when to come forward and be willing to charge back quickly when possession is lost, and that’s two things that Luiz sometimes doesn’t do.
It’s no surprise that he was dropped for Gary Cahill against Schalke, but the real question remains how long he may be dropped for. Certainly Mourinho has thrown down the challenge to Luiz to play less on instinct and more on reaction to what is needed around him, both positionally and in terms of work ethic. The question will be whether Luiz responds to that challenge. He hasn’t responded well so far this season, and that might mean he has to consider his future at the club.