Chelsea blown down by West Brom's perfect storm

Posted by Phil Lythell

Even as a Chelsea fan, the odds of 3 to 1 that some bookmakers were offering on West Bromwich Albion beating the Blues at The Hawthorns was extremely tempting.

Eden Hazard squeezes home a header to bring Chelsea level at West BromGettyImagesEden Hazard squeezes home a header to bring Chelsea level at West Brom

The offer appeared too good to be true seeing as the match itself was set amid a perfect storm of circumstances. The blend of far-flung international friendlies last week, a pivotal Champions League encounter against Juventus next week, the dip in morale suffered as a consequence of some unfortunate results and the soaring confidence of a Baggies team in form all suggested that the bookmakers were being uncharacteristically generous.

The storm ultimately blew down Roberto Di Matteo's side to give the manager his first taste of the unforgiving reality of managing an expectant team such as Chelsea that is obliged to fight on every front. With resources stretched by an uncharitable fixture list and through the assessment of priorities, Di Matteo felt compelled to make a number of changes and it was a risk that did not pay off. The long haul trips across several time-zones made by Ramires and Oscar from New Jersey where Brazil drew with Colombia and the even longer flight that Juan Mata had to make to return from Spain's win in Panama convinced the Italian to leave those three out of the starting eleven. Those absentees were added to a list including John Terry, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and Branislav Ivanovic and meant that there were only four – perhaps five - players starting the match at The Hawthorns that would be considered part of the strongest eleven.

Overuse of some players and the ensuing lethargy that has contributed to the downturn in results has necessitated a degree of rotation within the squad but not quite to the extent to that undertaken on Saturday. Di Matteo will point to the midweek excursions and the forthcoming trip to Turin for justification for his decisions and he does have a point but unfortunately for him all of those calls are bound to come under scrutiny when the game goes the wrong way. But for a couple of individual defensive errors, the Blues could have been emerged with a draw which would have been creditable under the circumstances - if nothing to get too excited about – but those mistakes did prove costly.

Shane Long gave Gary Cahill and David Luiz a torrid time all afternoon and he ghosted past the jet-lagged Brazilian to open the scoring. For the winner it was Ryan Bertrand who failed to anticipate the cross and then got his body into a terrible position to allow Peter Odemwingie a simple finish. As television pundits are so fond of telling us, lapses of concentration at the top level are ruthlessly punished and a team such as West Brom who are currently considerably more than the sum of their parts gleefully accepted the gifts.

While the members of the defence might have switched off momentarily, Fernando Torres at the other end was off the pace for the entire 63 minutes that he was on the pitch. Such criticism might appear predictable especially as it is becoming an ever more popular pursuit amongst observers to slam the Spaniard but it is not one I take any pleasure in. It would be fantastic to see him succeed but so blunt has he become that sometimes one can't help thinking that the player who terrorised defences in a Liverpool shirt was nothing more than a figment of our collective imagination. Unlike others who played in the game, he did not even have the excuse of having travelled around the world with his national team and his anonymity was in stark contrast to the display by Daniel Sturridge who was never far from the action when Chelsea attacked.

The young Englishman polarises opinion amongst supporters but whatever is said about him he is certainly not afraid to get himself involved. He might have missed the most gilt-edged of chances when he dragged a close range shot wide after a delicious knock down from substitute Oscar but he was by far the most dangerous blue-shirted player and drew a number of excellent saves from Boaz Myhill. Yes, he can be a little bit self-indulgent at times but I would rather a selfish Sturridge than a terrified Torres. If you don't shoot you can't score and with Torres suffering from paralysis in front of goal surely it is time to give his young team mate a run in the striker's position when his former employers, Manchester City, come to town next Sunday

It is now four games without a win in the Premier League though thankfully nobody is looking like runaway champions at the moment. That said, a positive result against City is vital if Chelsea want to retain realistic ambitions of challenging for the title at the sharp end of the season. Lose and a seven-point gap might be insurmountable even this early in the campaign.

But before that there is an even more important match against Juventus. I expect the team that takes the field in Italy to be fully-rotated back into the line-up we have come to expect and it is essential that they deliver. Two more defeats over the next seven days and the Blues quest for the two big trophies could effectively be over before the festive season has even begun.

Follow Phil Lythell on Twitter @PhilLythell

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