Chastened Chelsea have point to prove against West Brom

Posted by Phil Lythell

Serena Taylor/Getty ImagesJohn Terry is due to lead out a strong Chelsea side in the Champions League.

With the Chelsea ship righted with a win against Schalke on Wednesday night after having been buffeted around by a second-half whirlwind at Newcastle last weekend, the chance is now there for the Blues to once again set themselves on a steady course.

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Chelsea face West Bromwich Albion next at Stamford Bridge and will be thinking of nothing less than victory when they kick off at 3pm on Saturday. With another international break coming into view, the match provides the perfect platform to enter the two-week domestic hiatus in the best possible fashion. It also brings to a conclusion a congested period for the Blues who will have played six games in just 19 days and removes the need for Jose Mourinho to worry himself about keeping any of his squad members fresh for a looming midweek clash. The manager is free to select whomever he likes -- barring injury -- without the need to balance his resources.

While a win is always the least that Mourinho expects from a home match, it would be particularly beneficial this week when bearing in mind the fixtures faced by their title rivals. In the biggest game of the weekend, Manchester United and Arsenal face off on Sunday in a contest in which at least one of those sides will drop points. Should the Gunners fail to win, Chelsea could close the gap by dispatching the Baggies while extending their advantage over United should the Red Devils fail to secure victory. At the other extreme, Manchester City and Liverpool play Sunderland away and Fulham at home, respectively, and given the paucity of confidence and quality in both opponents, wins for each of the north-west clubs are virtually guaranteed. A Chelsea victory is vital to maintain parity with their rivals as well as ensuring a buoyancy among the squad and the supporters before the national teams reclaim the footballing stage.

Following the debacle at St James' Park and Mourinho's furious reaction to it, his charges will have been left in no doubt as to how tenuous their status is in the eyes of the manager. Perhaps the players might have started to believe their own press after the praise lavished on them from all quarters following a perfect October that culminated in the Capital One Cup cruise over Arsenal. That will not be the case anymore as a combination of their humbling on Tyneside and the ensuing ire of their manager will have ensured their feet are firmly rooted to the ground or even tucked under the substitutes' bench. Complacency will not be allowed to take hold under Mourinho and there will be a few bruised egos that are now suitably chastened. Even those who fulfilled their remit at Newcastle were not immune to the zero tolerance approach with Eden Hazard being removed from consideration for the Schalke game after turning up late for training on Monday.

Discipline and focus are key tenets of Mourinho's methodology and the rules apply to everyone equally. Nevertheless, it was telling that the Portuguese also chose not to chide his Belgian star too much in public while also admitting that Hazard was certain to be involved this coming Saturday. Mourinho is stern but he is not so stubborn as to strip himself of the services or the long-term loyalty of the most naturally gifted player at his disposal.

The sudden downplaying of expectations that followed the recent defeat is arguably a blessing in disguise. Until Chelsea's win over City a fortnight ago, it had been Arsenal receiving all the plaudits with the Blues sailing serenely along away from the spotlight. Fernando Torres' last-minute winner that day and the 2-0 win at the Emirates Stadium 48 hours later shifted the focus onto them for the first time this campaign and Chelsea's frailties at St James Park were exposed for all to see. With Arsenal once again the flavour of the month with wins over Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund, Chelsea can resume normal service by getting the job done on Saturday away from the glare of an expectant media.

But for all the talk of three points and getting the title challenge back on track, it must be recognised that West Brom will be no pushovers. They might currently be residing in a modest 11th place in the Premier League table with only one win in their last five matches -- and that was against relegation certainties Crystal Palace -- but they have also won at Old Trafford, taken the lead against Arsenal before drawing 1-1 and secured a point at Everton. They also have some former Stamford Bridge favourites who will be eager to impress.

In the opposing dugout will be Steve Clarke, a bona fide Chelsea legend, having made over 400 appearances for the club in an 11-year period that saw Chelsea evolve from a second division team to one that lifted major silverware in the shape of the FA Cup, League Cup and European Cup Winners Cup. He also served under Mourinho during the Special One's first spell at the club, a partnership that yielded two English titles. His contribution to the Blues is beyond question. On the field, Nicolas Anelka could well feature on the ground where he won the Premier League Golden Boot in the 2008-09 season and was an integral part of Carlo Ancelotti's double-winning side a year later. His fateful penalty shootout miss in the 2008 Champions League final has long been forgiven -- if not entirely forgotten -- after he flourished at Chelsea before being unfairly ostracised by Andre Villas-Boas during his last days at the club.

Both are guaranteed a stirring reception from the home crowd for the sterling service they have given the club, though as talented as they are it is hard to see anything other than a Chelsea win. The defeat last Saturday will serve as a warning to the players that nothing less that 100 percent will be accepted by the manager and the supporters. With the Blues squad overflowing with options, those who take the field will know that their place is in jeopardy should they fail to deliver. That particular stick alongside the carrot of three points should be more than enough to spur them to victory.

Follow Phil Lythell on Twitter @PhilLythell


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