The champions-elect visit the Hawthorns this evening looking to seal the title with a victory, while the Baggies face their final home game of the season on a run of six matches without a win, although they did manage to break their scoreless run last weekend at Turf Moor.
That goal from Salomón Rondón ended a period of almost nine hours of football without a goal for the Baggies, whereas it was the Venezuelan’s first goal for Albion in 2017. In the first couple of months of this year, Rondón’s barren run was less important as goals were coming from other areas of the team, particularly from set pieces, but until the trip to Burnley, those sources had dried up and a goal from a striker was much needed. Gareth McAuley was joint top scorer for the Baggies until last weekend, but his defensive teammate, Craig Dawson, has made a late bid to challenge the Baggies scoring chart having scored four of Albion’s last seven goals having not previously netted this season.
The last time Chelsea visited the Hawthorns late in the season, Tony Pulis’s team sent Mourinho’s Premier League Champions home chastened following a 3-0 win for the hosts. On that occasion, of course, the title had already been secured – tonight is a very different situation. It’s not make-or-break for Antonio Conte’s team – they have three games to get the three points they need – but they would obviously like to wrap it up this evening to be ready for a party at the Bridge on Monday. Should Chelsea win, the Hawthorns will become the sixteenth stadium at which the Premier League title has been won (great trivia question to name the other 15 – tweet me on @jonwant if you want to know the answers).
That victory over the Blues two seasons ago was only the third time that Albion have won their last home game in a Premier League season, the first being the win over Portsmouth to complete the Great Escape in 2005 and Youssuf Mulumbu scored the only goal in a win over Everton in 2011. Such is Albion’s propensity to finish seasons poorly, they have won just five of their 33 Premier League games in May.
The recent collapse in the Baggies’ form, typical of a Pulis team after reaching 40 points as my article last week demonstrated, means that they still need five points from their last three games to reach a club record points total, a target that was eminently achievable at the end of February. With trips to Manchester City and relegation-threatened Swansea City to come, a win tonight would make that a little more likely. However, Chelsea seem unstoppable. They may have lost to Palace and United in recent weeks, but the win at Everton two weeks ago was hugely impressive and, while Albion will certainly hunker down and make it more difficult than Everton did, it will be a huge shock were the Baggies to get anything from the game.
Pulis needs something, though. The fans are grumbling once again and, while the pundits continue to say what a great season Albion have had, the truth is that it was great until we moved into March. Since then, Albion have looked toothless and vulnerable, although they have remarkably held on to eighth place. At the end of February, Albion were four points behind Everton with a chance of a Europa League spot, and seven points ahead of ninth-placed West Ham. The gap to the Toffees is now thirteen points and Leicester City are two points behind Albion with a game in hand.
Having said that, it has been a remarkable achievement for this squad to do what they have done. Pulis deserves credit for what he has done with the resources he has available, but the club need to look at why the squad is so thin. The Berahino situation obviously complicated the situation, but even if he had come back into the fold, the signing of HRK last summer was not enough to see us through until January, let alone for the entire season. This summer needs to be very different!
Chelsea to win and claim the title.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
11 Dec 2016 – Premier League
Chelsea 1 (Costa)
West Brom 0
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
23 Aug 2015 – Premier League
West Brom 2 (Morrison (2))
Chelsea 3 (Pedro, Costa, Azpilicueta)
18 May 2015 – Premier League
West Brom 3 (Berahino (2, 1 pen), Brunt)
Albion’s Record against Chelsea
|Premier League Record|