There was plenty of uncertainty in the air at Stamford Bridge on Monday evening despite the Blues facing bottom-of-the-table West Brom.
This doubt was soon laid to rest as Chelsea breezed past the Baggies and looked very good value for the 3-0 scoreline. Goals from Eden Hazard (2) and Victor Moses were enough to force Alan Pardew’s side even closer to relegation.
Olivier Giroud made his first start for the Blues, with Alvaro Morata fit enough to make the bench. Marcos Alonso missed out with an injured ankle, Cesc Fabregas and Andreas Christensen came back into the starting XI, while Daniel Sturridge returned to the Bridge.
Hazard to the rescue
However, the former Chelsea striker’s match was cut horrendously short as he was forced off with, what looked like, a rolled ankle after just three minutes. His replacement, Jay Rodriguez, possibly should have had a penalty moments later when he was chopped down by Fabregas 12 yards out. The away side continued to press for the opener and they almost found it as Salomon Rondon flashed a header over the bar from Matt Phillips’ rasping cross. Their best chance of the game followed after Moses’ attempted header back to Thibaut Courtois fell dreadfully short. It was pounced upon by Rodriguez who snatched at the chance, sending it wide of the target.
A nervy ten minutes passed for the hosts and they were allowed to grow into the game. Ben Foster made two decent saves from Davide Zappacosta and Giroud but could do absolutely nothing about Hazard’s thunderous effort. Chelsea’s player of the season so far exchanged a fast one-two on the edge of the box with his new French team-mate before firing an electric low strike into the bottom corner leaving Foster with no chance.
Giroud then managed to peel off at the back post from a Blues corner and after Christensen’s flick towards the target man, his failed overhead kick was met by sarcastic cheers from home and away fans. More cheers were in order for the ex-Arsenal man as he was bandaged up Terry Butcher-style before the break!
A half of two halves
For the first 15 minutes of the second period, Antonio Conte would have been very worried as his side looked destined to lose their one-goal lead. Rondon relentlessly chased down Christensen’s failure to deal with a long ball and the Venezuelan powered a shot into the side netting, thanks to Courtois’ divine intervention, that looked to the West Brom supporters as though it had snuck in. From the resulting corner, Jonny Evans sent his header just wide.
The visitors were made to rue those missed chances as the champions doubled their lead on the hour mark. Moses benefitted from Fabregas’ deflected through ball and kept a cool head to slot the ball past Foster with his weaker foot. The wing-back was desperate for another goal but this time, West Brom’s English stopper was equal to a well-struck drive.
It wasn’t much longer before Chelsea hit the front again and it was that man Hazard who managed another glorious goal. Morata, who had come on to replace Giroud, played the ball into the path of his team-mate and with just a couple of touches, the Belgian had lost his marker. With the space he had created, Hazard unleashed a left-footed rocket which completely wrongfooted Foster and flew into the near post, confirming the three points for his side.
It was a much-needed and much-anticipated win for the Blues, slightly easing the rumours regarding Conte’s job, which has come under great scrutiny in recent weeks. It has put Chelsea back into the top four ahead of an FA Cup tie with Hull City and a huge Champions League first-leg against Barcelona.