After successive defeats to Bournemouth and Watford, Chelsea look to turn things around on Monday night against West Brom. Adam Baylis previews the action...
"West Brom are still only six points from safety and they do have previous when it comes to clearing the desks of Chelsea head coaches, just ask Roberto Di Matteo and André Villas-Boas."
Chelsea v West Brom
Monday 12 February, 20:00 GMT
Live on Sky Sports Main Event / Premier League
Three points vital for Conte
Antonio Conte perhaps would've looked at this game as a formality a fortnight ago... but that was before his Chelsea side fell to defeat against both Bournemouth and Watford, conceding seven goals in the process. Five points behind Manchester United, the Chelsea hierarchy will likely accept nothing but all three on Monday night or the axe could fall on yet another Stamford Bridge manager.
Following his red card at Vicarage Road a week ago, Conte will be without Tiemoue Bakayoko but based on recent performances, that may be a blessing. Olivier Giroud sparked some life into the visitors when he was brought on for his Chelsea debut, certainly doing enough to earn himself a start. It could be that the former Gunner comes in to replace his fellow countryman, given defensive protection is unlikely to be a priority against a West Brom side that's been devoid of any attacking threat for the majority of the season.
However there will be concern around whether Marcus Alonso and Andreas Christensen are over their respective hamstring injuries; the pair have been stand-out performers in a Chelsea back five that - despite recent results - still possess the third best defensive record in the league. Both Álvaro Morata and Ross Barkley are still not expected back until the start of next month.
West Brom still struggling for goals
According to Opta, West Brom have lost more points from leading positions than any other Premier League side this season, 18 to be exact. And that was very much the story at the Hawthorns once again last week as they squandered an early lead against Southampton, eventually losing 3-2. The Baggies have shown more attacking intent since Alan Pardew's arrival, underlined by the signing of Daniel Sturridge on loan but they've still only found the net on a pitiful 21 occasions.
Pardew bemoaned his lack of defensive options due to injuries last week but he won't be able to use such an excuse on Monday night with Jonny Evans, Grzegorz Krychowiak and Kieran Gibbs all returning to fitness. Jay Rodriguez may be rested in favour of a five man midfield that will attempt to stunt the attacking threat of messieurs Hazard, Willian and Fabregas.
On a more positive note, despite propping up the table, West Brom are still only six points from safety and they do have previous when it comes to clearing the desks of Chelsea head coaches, just ask Roberto Di Matteo and André Villas-Boas.
Blues a short price for victory
It will come as little surprise that Chelsea find themselves as [1.38] favourites for this clash with West Brom at [10.0] and the Draw at [5.3]. Opta tell us that the visitors have failed to register a win at Stamford Bridge in 16 attempts and Antonio Conte has won all three meetings against the Baggies.
Based on recent results, some may be tempted to take a chance that West Brom are able to buck the trends and come away with a point, they're [3.55] on the Double Chance. The two sides met at the Hawthorns in November where Chelsea ran out convincing 4-0 winners, scoring three before the half-time whistle was blown, Chelsea HT/FT is [2.02].
Return of Evans will buoy Baggies
Those expecting goals can get Over 2.5 at [1.81] and the previous 34 games between these sides have averaged 2.87 per match. However for all of Pardew's attacking intent, West Brom haven't completely outgrown their Tony Pulis roots and still remain a tough side to break down, especially with Jonny Evans back. I'd prefer the [2.1] on offer for Unders on that basis.
Fine margin win appeals
Working on the premise that this won't be a goal-fest, it's still tough to envisage Chelsea not bouncing back at home, the 2-0 correct score is priced at [7.2] and that makes plenty of appeal. Both teams to score is [2.08] on the Exchange but Daniel Sturridge will have to improve on his performance last week to trouble Thibaut Courtois.
Lee Mason takes charge of this fixture and he's only had two games this season where he's failed to hand out a card. In 17 games he's dealt out no less than 46 yellow's and three red cards. Eight of those cautions came in Chelsea's EFL cup tie against Bournemouth and three in West Brom's FA Cup clash with Exeter in January. As such it could be worth focusing on 30+ booking points if playing in card markets.