So, it was one of those majestic, minimalistic-type displays from Eden Hazard that ultimately guided Chelsea through that one, with two goals, one either side of Victor Moses’s effort. He was not at his purring best, but he was the difference, really. It was a bleak night for West Brom, who should have opened the scoring and had Daniel Sturridge trudge off injured after four minutes. For Antonio Conte, consider those looming dark clouds of pressure cleared – for now, at least.
“We showed a response and we did well in front of our fans,” Hazard says. “We are Chelsea, we are the champions and we need to give everything. Sometimes you win games, sometimes you lose. The most important thing is to talk together, and today we showed great character defensively and offensively.
“He [Giroud] is a great target man, maybe one of the best in England. He is a good point of reference. But we have a lot, we have Alvaro and I can play striker also. But he is a good striker.”
Thanks a lot for your company. Read Dominic Fifield’s match report from Stamford Bridge:
90 min: Willian and Hazard play a neat give and go, but the Belgian wanted it back again, just as Willian clung on to it a little too long at the byline. There will be two added minutes.
87 min: Fabregas’s short corner in search of Victor Moses is cut out by Krychowiak.
85 min: Evans battles to try and nab the ball off Willian but, come on, what’s the point? This game’s over. Chelsea win a corner and are sniffing around for a fourth.
84 min: Burke runs the ball out of play to some wishy-washy jeers from the home support.
81 min: Courtois is put under pressure by Rondon and Burke but the Chelsea goalkeeper is his customary cool. And on the counterattack, Chelsea fly forward, but Moses drags an effort harmlessly wide.
80 min: Here comes Willian, in place of Pedro. Claudio Yacob is coming on for the visitors, with Gareth Barry making way.
78 min: Morata steps inside to curl at goal from 20 yards but Foster makes a decent save. Hazard had sprayed the ball out wide for Morata to then dive on to his right foot. West Brom require a miracle. They have mustered 21 league goals all season. Manchester City? 79.
76 min: Hazard almost slides through Pedro but it’s cut out by Evans. Hegazi then kickstarts a West Brom surge upfield. That’s about it, though, before it comes straight back them, with Foster forced to boot it long towards Rondon.
74 min: Christensen is replaced by Cahill. The latter cannot start for England in Russia in four months time if he’s not playing regularly for Chelsea, can he?
72 min: It could have been four, but Moses overcooks a through ball for a very eager Morata. Up the other end, Rodriguez swings in a lovely ball but Rondon cannot connect.
GOAL! Chelsea 3-0 West Brom (Hazard, 71 min)
Unstoppable. The Belgian darts inside Evans and, with his left foot, he sends a rasping effort inside Ben Foster’s near post.
69 min: Moses again runs at Gibbs, gaining territory inside the West Brom box as he grinds through the gears. He drills at goal and Foster makes a great stop with his left foot. West Brom are in real trouble, aren’t they. Three wins all season with 11 matches to play after tonight.
67 min: Rodriguez gets something to a cross flung in from the right by Dawson. But that is what you would call feeding off scraps. He did squander that big first-half chance a little earlier, mind. And for those of you just joining us, Rodriguez was a fourth minute substitute after Daniel Sturridge trudged off with what is thought to be a hamstring injury.
65 min: Pardew looks totally winded on the touchline; he knows his West Brom team have not been dreadful tonight, without exactly being entirely convincing, either.
GOAL! Chelsea 2-0 West Brom (Moses, 63 mins)
Normal service resumed at Stamford Bridge. He rounds off a brilliant Chelsea move. He ran at a frantically back-peddling Gibbs before Fabregas’s neat flick lands at his feet via Dawson. Cue the acrobatic celebration. Chelsea are cruising now.
62 min: Morata almost has an instant impact, but his effort from outside the box is deflected wide by Evans. Pedro had laid the ball on a plate for the Spaniard to strike at. It was probably always curling away from goal but Chelsea win a corner.
61 min: Giroud is subbed off for Morata. The Frenchman is all smiles but he really ought to have scored his first Chelsea goal tonight. Morata is back from that bout of back trouble.
59 min: Stamford Bridge is a whole lot more anxious now, it seems. Meanwhile, a couple more entries into the best-worst team to be relegated from the top division. “I remember the Middlesbrough team of 1996-97 to be the best team to get relegated,” emails David Edwards. “They reached both the League and FA Cup finals, Fabrizio Ravanelli scored 31 goals (16 in the league) they had class like players like Juninho, Emerson and Nick Barmby, but it wasn’t enough to keep them up.”
And David Bertram steps outside of the Premier League era to ask, “How about the Villa teams in 87. Granted there were some relatively in inexperienced players mixed with European cup winners but the squad included; Nigel Spink, Paul Elliott, Tony Dorigo , Martin Keown, Mark Walters, Andy Gray and of course Steve Hodge.”
57 min: Rondon goes agonisingly close! Rondon simply bullies Christensen one-on-one after latching on to a thumping ball downfield, and as he bears down on Courtois, the goalkeeper comes out to make himself big, as they say. Rondon’s effort is saved, though, by which point Rudiger and Azpilicueta are back for company, and Chelsea are off the hook. From the resulting corner, Evans also went close. That was a big let-off for Chelsea.
55 min: Phillips’s cross from the right is deflected into the hands of Thibaut Courtois. For a moment, the Chelsea defence was panicked.
54 min: Moses flies down the right, he steadies himself to shoot, it looks promising … but frankly it’s poor and he slams his effort into the side-netting. Coming back to that Azpilicueta clearance a moment ago, if he doesn’t get there to slide in and snuff out Burke’s low cross, Rondon surely taps in. Brilliant, brilliant defending.
52 min: Burke’s dangerous ball from the right forces Azipilicueta into a brilliant piece of defending. West Brom then go again, but Rodriguez is robbed as he shimmies away from the defender. The man they call Dave is having a stormer for Chelsea.
50 min: Hazard buys a foul out of Barry on halfway and Chelsea are slowly settling into their groove once more. Meanwhile, “I know Leeds sold of a lot of stars,” begins Øyvind on email, “but the squad that got relegated still contains Mark Viduka and Alan Smith as forwards, Harte, Radebe and Kelly in defence and the sometimes excellent Eirik Bakke in midfield (as well as supertalent James Milner). But maybe they were too old at that time?”
49 min: Gibbs earns a yellow card for crashing into the back of Moses in pursuit of the ball. Chelsea whip the ball in from the right flank but Christensen’s header is incredibly tame.
47 min: Rudiger loses his footing but Burke cannot steal in and snatch the ball. Instead, Chelsea go up the other end with Giroud again looking for Hazard. That flourishing partnership will, regardless of what happens between now and the final whistle, be a plus point for Chelsea and Conte.
The second half is under way, and West Brom get the ball rolling, with Oliver Burke on at the break. He will play wide, as part of a 4-3-3 system, with Rodriguez flanking Rondon from the left.
As many of you (Enda, Brian, Te Reo, and others) have kindly pointed out, that West Ham team feat. James, Defoe, Di Canio, Kanoute, Carrick, Joe Cole etc that was relegated in 2003 was pretty nifty. Any more best-worst teams that have been relegated in the Premier League era to rival that one before the second half gets started?
The best team to be relegated from the Premier League? “If we don’t stick to the Premier League era, surely the best team to be relegated from the English top division were Manchester City in 1938,” emails Kari, “who not only went down having scored more goals than anyone else in the league, but were the reigning champions of England.” Indeed. And, with that in mind, here’s some semi-relevant half-time reading:
Half-time score: Chelsea 1-0 West Bromwich Albion
Eden Hazard’s strike is the difference at the interval. And Giroud, who has been in the wars over the past 45 minutes, is back up on his feet.
45+3 min: Jonny Evans picks up a yellow card for ploughing through the back of Giroud’s calf. The Chelsea striker is on the deck once more. He’s had a pretty rotten half, except for that little lay-off for Hazard’s goal.
45+2 min: A glimpse of goal opens up for Salomon Rondon and he blasts at goal. The outcome of that ambitious effort? Very wayward.
45 min: Great feet by Pedro sees the ball sprayed in towards Giroud, but he cannot divert his header goalwards. It falls wide of Foster’s post and another – albeit half chance – goes begging.
44 min: Fabregras breaks through the West Brom back line but Brunt tracks his man and Foster scoops it up. Chelsea are cruising towards the half-time whistle.
41 min: Pardew is barking, West Brom are trying but Chelsea are winning. They look comfortable now, seeing much more of the ball.
40 min: West Brom win a throw from the right but, though stating the bleeding obvious, it all feels a little too uphill for them to get something out of this now. And here come Chelsea on the counter, through Moses. A spell of pressure ends with Hegazi nodding away Azpilicueta’s searching cross.
38 min: Giroud requires a bit of treatment, he’s being patched up by the Chelsea physios. He looks a tiny bit 1989 Terry Butcher now. Morata looks keen for a moment but there’s no way the Frenchman is coming off without a goal to his name.
37 min: Best squad to go down thoughts: “Surely Newcastle 08-09?” emails Joe, “though if Southampton go down this year, it will have to be them.” Agreed, that Saints squad is pretty loaded and Newcastle seem the obvious challengers to Albion. This West Brom squad just feels like it is packing a few big names, a few B-Listers, even if they are continually underwhelming.
35 min: Giroud goes close at the near post but he gets his acrobatics slightly out of sync. He cannot angle his left boot towards goal. It would have been nice.
33 min: Brunt clipped Hazard but Mason, the referee, plays advantage, as another Chelsea attack unravels. Evans takes control for West Brom, before Dawson pings a hopeful ball up top. They are going to need more invention than that, I’m afraid.
30 min: West Brom win a corner but Brunt’s delivery is not up to scratch and cleared at the front post. Meanwhile, a thought: if West Brom do indeed go down, would it be the best squad – on paper at least – ever relegated from the Premier League?
28 min: Courtois makes a good save from Dawson but the West Brom defender was offside, by about a yard, at the back post. And Chelsea go again.
27 min: West Brom are taking it slow and steady as they look to respond. Can they galvanise, recover and dig out an equaliser? They win a free-kick, 30 yards from goal. Chris Brunt will swing it in, of course.
26 min: That is something of a hammer blow for West Brom, given the fairly promising start they had made. And here come Chelsea again … but Hazard overcooks his pass for Moses.