7th place West Bromwich Albion will travel to Stamford Bridge Saturday to face Rafael Benitez and his 4th place Chelsea squad.
Over the past few weeks, Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez has been under heavy scrutiny after a disappointing 1-1 draw to Sparta Prague in the Europa League, followed by a 0-2 loss away at Manchester City. With The Blues sitting in 4th place in the Premiership table, they are on the cusp of losing a spot in next year’s Champions League tournament and for owner Roman Abramovich that is simply unacceptable.
Chelsea pulled off a 2-0 victory over Middlesbrough in the fifth round of the FA Cup at midweek, which has helped relieve the pressure on Benitez for the moment, but the new manager still has some serious work to do to earn the respect of the fans. While some fans are hoping that Chelsea struggle so that Abramovich will have no choice to make a change, and some are even surmising that the return of Roberto Di Matteo is in order.
Just two points ahead of Arsenal for the final Champions League spot, The Blues head into Saturday needing a win. While a few weeks ago, Champions League qualification seemed inevitable; Chelsea has somehow stumbled into a situation that requires urgency and results to fend off surging teams Tottenham and Arsenal.
On the other side, West Bromwich enter Saturday comfortably in 7th place stuck in no mans land. Seven points out of Europa League qualification, but seven points safe from remaining in the top ten, Albion is in a very curious position. Chances are that Europa League is out of reach, but the squad is really under no pressure because they have performed way above expectations this season. Having just beaten Liverpool and Sunderland in consecutive weeks, the team is playing with confidence and fervor, which could spell trouble for their remaining opponents.
The Baggies are out of the Capital One Cup and the FA Cup and are comfortably placed in the Premiership table. There is really no losing at this point unless they completely implode, but no such evidence has pointed to such an occurrence. As The Baggies head into Stamford Bridge, they should play loose and free, which could be trouble for Chelsea, who will surely be pressing.
Let’s take a look at some of the key players to watch in Saturday’s Stamford Bridge clash:
After months on the sideline with a knee injury, John Terry has returned to Chelsea’s defense making The Blues that much more formidable. Terry has had a rough year since winning the UEFA Champions League last year with his racism trial, injuries, and having his captaincy of England stripped which lead to his retirement from international play. However, his mental fortitude and resolve has see him return to the pitch with fervor and his presence will not only be a huge lift come this Saturday’s match against West Bromwich, but also for the rest of the season. After mysteriously missing Chelsea’s match against Manchester City, Terry started and played well against Middlesbrough. For a team that is struggling to maintain a Champions League qualification spot, the leadership that Terry brings is priceless heading into the final stretch of the season.
Having been second choice by Rafael Benitez to striker Fernando Torres in many recent matches, Ba has been unable to get into the groove he showed throughout his time at Newcastle. The Spanish manager may favor Torres over Ba due to nationality, but Torres’ form has been peanuts compared to Ba over the past few seasons. Demba Ba has shown to be a world-class striker and he deserves a chance to prove himself for The Blues. Fans have questioned the decision of Benitez to play Torres over Ba on many occasions, and heading into the final crucial stage of the season, Benitez would be wise to listen. Ba is an unbelievable talent and if he gets a chance Saturday, West Bromwich will have some serious trouble.
The young Belgian has proven to be a star among stars this season at Chelsea. His speed, agility, and skill pose a nightmare for defenders and his goal-scoring knack has been a huge boost for The Blues this season. Hazard scored a crucial goal in stoppage time against Sparta Prague last week that narrowly squeaked Chelsea into the next round of the Europa League tournament. Hazard has racked up 11 goals and 15 assists in all competitions this seasons and has clearly stamped himself on the Premiership after winning player of the year honors in French Ligue 1 over the past several years. Come Saturday, Hazard’s presence will be very important with the struggles of Fernando Torres up top. Hopefully for Chelsea’s sake, Demba Ba will get the start at striker, but whoever starts; Hazard will be a great compliment.