Hello and welcome to Sports Mole
's live text coverage of the Premier League meeting between Chelsea
and West Bromwich Albion
at Stamford Bridge. These two sides have been in identical form over the past month or so; winning two, drawing two and losing two of their last six top-flight outings.
That sets up what should be a tight and cagey encounter, as West Brom look to pick up a third Premier League win on the bounce, while home favourites Chelsea know that a victory of their own could very well see the gap on the top four close a little more come the end of play this evening.
Before taking a look at this evening's fixture in a little more depth, let's first check out some team news from West London...
CHELSEA STARTING XI: Courtois; Ivanovic, Zouma, Terry, Azpilicueta; Mikel, Fabregas; Willian, Oscar, Pedro; Diego Costa
WEST BROM STARTING XI: Myhill; Olsson, Yacob, Evans, Morrison, Brunt, McClean, McAuley, Fletcher, Dawson, Rondon
Starting with a look at the Chelsea team, then, and stand-in boss Guus Hiddink
has opted to make three changes to his starting lineup for this evening's home clash. Thibaut Courtois and John Terry were both rested for the weekend FA Cup win over Scunthorpe United, but they return to the fold as expected for this one.
Hiddink named a stronger side than expected against Scunthorpe, which is perhaps reflected in the fact that just three alterations have been made a few days on from that 2-0 triumph. As well as bringing Courtois and Terry back into the team, John Obi Mikel - the man who has arguably benefited most from the Dutchman's arrival - is also welcomed back in the middle of the park.
In terms of the visitors, the biggest decision facing Tony Pulis
heading into this match concerned his selection between the sticks. Rather than throwing Ben Foster back into the mix, he has opted to retain faith with Boaz Myhill for tonight's showdown. Foster returned for the first time in 10 months in the FA Cup tie with Bristol City at the weekend, but Myhill is given the nod once more after impressing in his English counterpart's absence.
Pulis' teams are often accused of being overly defensive, which is not all that surprising when you take an initial glance at this evening's starting lineup. Plenty of strong options at the back for the Baggies, who have made a habit of grinding out slender 1-0 wins on their travels under the Welshman's watch. There is, perhaps surprisingly, no room for Stephane Sessegnon, though.
Jonas Olsson and Victor Anichebe were both injury doubts heading into this one, having sat our Albion's last two games. Well both are included in the squad this evening, with Olsson taking his place in the starting lineup and Anichebe among the substitutes. It comes as no real shock to see Saido Berahino back among the subs, too, for the 11th time in succession.
CHELSEA SUBS: Begovic; Cahill, Matic, Loftus-Cheek, Kenedy, Remy
WEST BROM SUBS: Foster; Chester, Gardner, Anichebe, Berahino, McManaman, Sessegnon
Asmir Begovic, Gary Cahill and Ramires are the three men to make way for Chelsea, as Hiddink names his expected starting lineup. There is no Eden Hazard once more for the hosts this evening, of course, but Diego Costa is seemingly at full fitness after being included and Loic Remy is also among the back-up options for the Blues.
As already mentioned, Ben Foster is back in the West Brom squad but unable to force his way back into starting contention just yet. It's certainly an attacking bench as far as the visitors are concerned - largely because such a defensive-looking starting lineup has been named! Sessegnon is unlucky not to be included in the matchday XI, while the aforementioned Anichebe and Berahino will also be desperate to make an impact.
No Eden Hazard for Chelsea this evening due to the Belgian's groin strain, but Loic Remy has overcome a calf injury of his own to be included in the hosts' matchday squad.
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It was a somewhat slow start to life at Stamford Bridge for Guus Hiddink
who, on his second coming in this part of West London, kicked his short-term tenure off with a couple of draws. It has been steady progress since then, though, and the Blues currently find themselves on their best run of form of the campaign to date. That may not say an awful lot, granted, but the Dutchman must be praised for the way in which he has steadied the ship thus far.
As things stand Chelsea find themselves in 14th place, sitting some five points above the relegation zone and a whopping 19 off top spot. The title is now well out of the question, of course, yet a top-four finish is not off the cards just yet. Hiddink himself talked in the build-up to this game about keeping the momentum going, with the aim of putting some pressure on those sides currently occupying a Champions League berth for next season.
Under a mixture of Hiddink and Steve Holland, Chelsea have now gone five games without defeat in all competitions to provide supporters with just a tad of hope for the new year. Champions League progression sealed, the Blues can still look forward to a potential run in Europe and the FA Cup, but in the Premier League it is merely a case of putting some points on the board and, well, hoping for the best over the coming months.
This impressive run has been built on a more solid-looking defence, which has kept three-successive clean sheets now. Diego Costa, booed by certain sections of Stamford Bridge upon Jose Mourinho's exit from the club last month, has also seemingly turned a corner and is looking something closer to the goal-scoring machine we saw for large parts of last season.
It was the three-goal thrashing of Crystal Palace last time out which particularly caught the eye, however, as the Blues finally clicked into gear across the pitch to show their rivals that a top-four finish is still a possibility. More of the same will be required this evening, and with just the one change being made from that 3-0 win - Pedro for Hazard - Chelsea now have a chance to keep this momentum going in front of their home supporters.
Consistency has been the biggest problem for the Premier League champions, though, having failed to win back-to-back top-flight games all term. On the back of that impressive Palace victory 10 days ago, Chelsea now have the chance to change that particular stat. They certainly have a tough run of games to come, with Everton, Arsenal, Watford and Manchester United in their next four outings after today, so you feel that a win is vital against the Baggies.
In terms of their record at Stamford Bridge, things have also improved in that regard thanks to three wins and a draw in their last four here. The Blues, who once boasted the best record in the land on their home patch, are just one defeat away from five at The Bridge all term - not since the 1990s have they lost that many in a single campaign.
The ship has well and truly been steadied under Guus Hiddink at Stamford Bridge, but Chelsea still find themselves 13 points off a Champions League berth with less than half the season left to play.
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DID YOU KNOW? West Brom are the only side in the division who have yet to score in the opening 15 minutes of a game this term. The last time the Baggies breached the opposition net in the opening stages of a game came, ironically enough, against Chelsea back in May of last year. Keeping things tight early on is a key trait of Pulis'.
We may recently have passed the halfway stage of the campaign, but it is worth reminding Albion supporters that they find themselves above their opponents in the table. That could change with a defeat here tonight, but it has been a positive enough campaign for the Baggies thus far regardless of the end outcome in West London.
Just three points stands between the Baggies and a place in the top half, which you feel has to be the target for Pulis in this most unpredictable of campaigns. Things did look a little bleak just a couple of weeks ago following a run of five without a win in the Premier League, although back-to-back wins - against Newcastle United and Stoke City - has ensured that a top-half finish is back on the agenda once more at The Hawthorns.
A last-gasp leveller against Bristol City last time out just about kept the feel-good factor going, but Pulis has made no secret that the Premier League takes priority. Thanks to those successive victories, the Baggies are going in search of their third league wins on the bounce for the first time since November 2012.
While trying to avoid falling into the trap of labelling this West Brom side, you certainly know what you are going to get from a Pulis outfit on their travels. Tough and hard to beat, seven of the Baggies' last eight wins on the road have come via a 1-0 scoreline. Keeping things tight and nicking a goal against the run of play will likely be the aim at Stamford Bridge in this Premier League tough-to-call Premier League affair.
PREVIOUS MEETINGS! Chelsea are unbeaten in their last 11 top-flight meetings with the Baggies on home soil, winning 10 and drawing one of those encounters. That is a run stretching way back to 1978, while Albion also have to contend with the fact that they have lost more games against tonight's opponents (14) than any other side in their Premier League history.
There is now a little under 10 minutes to go before we get underway in West London, so let's quickly check out the views from both camps in the build-up to this match.
Guus Hiddink: "So long as we have the possibility to go to fourth place we will go for that. It's not that we are without chances to go there (fourth) and then we bring in youngsters, no. I will not hesitate whenever possible to bring in youngsters as well. The youngsters must try to learn also to work under this pressure."
Tony Pulis: "We're in for a tough game. Chelsea have some wonderful players and we'll have to be on it and at our best. That's the same with every top four or five club. If you go away and play against them you have to have at least 10 of your players playing to their maximum to get a result."
It is a busy midweek programme in the Premier League, with six other fixtures taking place this evening on top of the three from last night. The picture may become just a tad clear in the table come 10pm this evening, although if every other gameweek provides any indication then we can surely expect a few abnormal results up and down the country.
PREDICTION! Right, it's now time to give a prediction as the two sets of players make their way into the tunnel area at Stamford Bridge. I've mentioned the words "tight" and "cagey" a few times already in the build up to this match, which perhaps offers an indication to the way I see this one panning out. They may be positioned in 12th and 14th place, but this will hopefully be an entertaining contest which Chelsea will just edge by the odd goal.
A good omen for Chelsea? We're about to find out, with kickoff now just a couple of minutes away at Stamford Bridge.
KICKOFF! Darren Fletcher and Chris Brunt get proceedings underway. The visitors fielding four centre-backs in defence this evening, remember, so it could be a tough shift for the Blues' advanced players.
West Brom not as tough to break down as I expected early on, as Costa is given just a little sight of goal. Olsson was unable to win the ball from the Spaniard, who flashed a shot narrowly wide of target. Promising start for an improved Chelsea side.
Albion not willing to just sit back and soak up the pressure, knowing that they certainly have what it takes to pick up a win here. Fletcher does well to get on the ball down the right, before hanging up a decent cross for Rondon and Brunt to chase on to. The latter got their first, but was unable to keep his effort down.
WEST BROM SUB!
Bad news for Morrison, as the Albion midfielder appears to have pulled his hamstring early on. Craig Gardner
is called upon in what is essentially a like-for-like swap, albeit with a less influential player being introduced.
SHOT! Just about the most promising moment of the match thus far, as Willian creates a yard of space around 20 yards from goal before firing a shot narrowly wide of the far post. Myhill was diving across and probably had it covered, but that was a decent attempt from Chelsea's finest player.
Costa and Oscar - not the best of friends at the moment, allegedly - almost link-up just outside the Albion box, only for the Spaniard to underhit his final pass. Chelsea have edged things so far, but Albion certainly looking to probe away and ask a few questions of their own on the counter.
A couple of wayward Costa and Willian shots aside, there has not been a great deal to shout about for either side so far. A very subdued atmosphere around Stamford Bridge tonight, which will clearly favour the visitors.
A second half-chance of the evening for Albion, coming after some slack Chelsea defending. Ivanovic allowed a cross to come in down the left, with Fletcher latching on to the ball and getting a shot in which deflected wide for a corner.
Albion certainly the side on top now, as substitute Gardner - tasked with getting forward in Morrison's absence - blasts a shot well wide of target. Chelsea looking a little disjointed and devoid of ideas at the moment, but there is still plenty of time to go.
SAVE! A flat delivery into the box is met by Dawson, who directs his header towards the bottom corner of the goal. Courtois was equal to the effort, though, and was able to safely push the ball aside for the concession of a corner. Albion need to make the most of this dominance.
Slightly better from Chelsea, who have stemmed the Albion tide a little and managed to get a few more bodies forward. Still not an awful lot between these two sides, in truth.
GOAL! CHELSEA 1-0 WEST BROMWICH ALBION (CESAR AZPILICUETA)
Chelsea have not managed to get out of first gear so far, but they have found a way through at Stamford Bridge via the most unlikely of sources! Cesar Azpilicueta
's previous goal for the club came against the Baggies, and it is the full-back who got on the end of Ivanovic's pass across the face of goal to break the deadlock from close range.
SAVE! A nice delivery into the back-post area is met well by McClean, who simply headed the ball downwards towards the bottom corner. Not the toughest of saves for Courtois to make, but he did have to get behind the attempt to ensure that his side's lead remains intact.
'Dave' simply loves playing against West Brom, doesn't he? The Spaniard's close-range finish separates the two sides, with a quarter of the game now played.
West Brom have actually played fairly well, in fairness. The gameplan looked to be working well at 0-0 - restricting their opponents to minimal chances and creating a few half-decent openings of their own. They must now come out of their shell a little more thanks to the Blues' breakthrough.
YELLOW CARD! Some good movement from Costa, who is unlucky to find himself offside at the end of a searching Fabregas pass. Yacob was shown a yellow card a few minutes ago after bringing down Willian.
GOAL! CHELSEA 1-1 WEST BROMWICH ALBION (CRAIG GARDNER)
Just seconds after Costa blasted over from a decent position up one end, Gardner is given far too much space in the final third and unleashes a cracking low effort beyond the reach of Courtois. The Albion sub bags his first of the campaign in some style, making that promising Chelsea spell appear redundant.
Pedro was at fault for losing the ball in the build-up to that Albion leveller, incidentally, with Fletcher wrestling back possession and picking out Gardner to do the rest. Olsson appears to have tweaked his hamstring, so a second change may have to be made.
A potentially big moment in this game, as Yacob - already with a yellow to his name - brings down an opponent and somehow avoids picking up a second booking. Myhill has also been forced into making a solid save, as the pendulum swings back in the Blues' favour.
Pedro looking the weak link in attack for Chelsea so far. His slack play allowed Albion to break and level things up a little earlier and, not for the first time tonight, a poor pass in attack sees another move break down.
Zouma and Terry fail to get touch-tight to Rondon, who simply turns on the edge of the box and blasts one a yard wide of the target. The visitors looking very bright when they get forward, which is providing Hiddink with more than a few half-time questions to answer.
So an extremely well balanced opening 43 minutes to this contest, then, which is poised at 1-1 heading into the interval. Chelsea just about in the ascendency at the moment, yet Albion look comfortable enough thanks to their strong defensive shell.
Costa and Yacob have a little shoving contest - one to watch in the second period. That's assuming the Albion man emerges for the second half, as he is still struggling with a recurrence of that hamstring problem which has kept him out of action.
Two of three added on minutes at the end of this first half have now been played, with this one just petering out to the interval. It's been an entertaining enough half of football, which remains well balanced at the midway point.
HALF TIME: CHELSEA 1-1 WEST BROMWICH ALBION
The half-time whistle sounds at Stamford Bridge, but Chelsea's players were left fuming as they headed down the tunnel. Albion had the ball inside the Blues' box as the three minutes of additional time came to a close, but the hosts staged what looked to be a promising counter-attack which came to an abrupt end when Taylor called the half to a halt. Costa was right in the official's face and was a little fortunate to avoid seeing a yellow.
It has been a decent half of football from a neutral perspective, and one which looks likely to go right down to the wire. Chelsea edged themselves in front, perhaps a little against the run of play, as Azpilicueta tapped home his second Chelsea goal on the end of Ivanovic's assist. Gardner was on hand to level things up in a superb manner soon after, though, to ensure that we find ourselves locked at 1-1 at Stamford Bridge.
Other than the two goals, we have not truly seen a clear-cut chance as such, but both sides have mustered a few opportunities. Costa and Willian both blasted over early on, while the Spaniard also failed to find the target moments before Gardner found the net himself.
Gardner is only on the field due to an early injury picked up by Morrison, incidentally, while the returning Olsson is also looking a little groggy. Changes could therefore be made at the break, so let's remind ourselves of both teams' back-up options.
CHELSEA SUBS: Begovic; Cahill, Matic, Loftus-Cheek, Kenedy, Remy
WEST BROM SUBS: Foster; Chester, Anichebe, Berahino, McManaman, Sessegnon
Dawson and McClean also managed to get headers on target, which Courtois was equal to in a simple enough fashion on both occasions. Will Albion continue to pose a threat following the restart, or will they become more restricted in the hope of taking a point back to the Midlands? It's almost time to find out...
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RESTART! We are back underway in West London. News of a half-time change to bring you - exciting Brazilian talent Kenedy coming on to replace the ineffective Pedro in attack.
Willian wants a penalty after the ball bounced up and hit McClean on the hand. It would have been extremely harsh had referee Anthony Taylor penalised the Albion midfielder, though, while replays suggest the incident took place outside the box, regardless.
YELLOW CARD! Diego Costa is shown a yellow card for his lunge on Gardner. The most blatant of fouls from the Spaniard, who was lucky not to be cautioned at the end of the first period.
Positive start to the half from Albion. A decent cross into the box from the right was well cut out for a corner, which failed to beat the first man on its way in. The Baggies keep the pressure on, but Rondon's weak header was never going to get the better of Courtois.
Costa is yet again right in the face of the referee when left aggrieved by a decision, which you have to say is simply idiotic. Already on a yellow, the Spaniard will see red before this game is out at this rate. Things have gone a little stale over the past couple of minutes.
Kenedy decides to take a shot on from range, which deflects into the arms of Myhill. The Brazilian has a chance to impress down the left this evening, having replaced the ineffective Pedro at the break.
Another big moment in this game, as Yacob brings down Costa to concede a free kick around 25 yards from goal. Costa leads the calls for a second yellow card to be shown, but Anthony Taylor believes that the set-piece is a big enough punishment.
WEST BROM SUB! Willian takes on the resulting free kick, which dips over the bar to the relief of Myhill. Yacob is taken off by a wise Pulis after that earlier incident, with Berahino on in his place.
Things becoming awfully stretched at the moment, which is making great viewing for the neutral. Costa had perhaps the best opening of the half so far, yet he could only blast into the side-netting with his strike.
WEST BROM SUB! Sessegnon is now on for Rondon. Tony Pulis freshening things up in attack, then, which offers promise for these final 25 minutes or so!
YELLOW CARD! Moments after predicting a late Albion charge for all three points, Myhill goes into the book for seemingly time wasting.
YELLOW CARD! Courtois and McClean also shown yellows for tangling inside the box, as the cautions keep flying around. Anthony Taylor has been extremely busy so far this evening.
Courtois doesn't look all that commanding when aiming to punch clear an Albion cross, which invites some more pressure on his side. Albion doing well to keep some pressure on their opponents here.
GOAL! CHELSEA 2-1 WEST BROMWICH ALBION (GARETH MCAULEY, OG)
Chelsea retain the lead at Stamford Bridge thanks to a large slice of fortune. Willian's cross into the near-post area looked to have been met by Kenedy on initial viewing, but replays show that the ball instead went in off the unfortunate McCauley who was sliding in. Albion now have a little over 15 minutes to find another response!
Costa so close to wrapping up the points for Chelsea, but Myhill made a fine stop to keep out the Spaniard's strike across goal.
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CHELSEA SUB! Matic comes on for Fabregas for the final 13 minutes, suggesting that Chelsea will look to see this slender lead out.
Chelsea doing more than enough to keep their lead intact at the moment, and are looking the more likely to bag a fourth of the game than their opponents. Kenedy, on a high following his involvement in the goal a few minutes ago, drags a shot well wide of target.
You still would not fancy betting your house on the outcome of this match, which really could go either way. West Brom are unlikely to win, but a draw would certainly feel like a victory at the home of an improving Chelsea side. Fletcher looked to take on a half-volley from the edge of the box, though he was well closed down.
GOAL! CHELSEA 2-2 WEST BROMWICH ALBION (JAMES MCCLEAN)
Superb character shown by West Brom yet again at Stamford Bridge, as they once more battle back to draw level. It's another belter, too, as James McClean
latched on to a loose ball on the edge of the box and tucked the ball out of Courtois' reach. Superb finish to a fantastic game!
Albion looking the more likely to find a decisive fifth of the game at the moment. Credit to Pulis - his side are really going for this and asking plenty of questions.
Five minutes to be added on at the end of this first half. Chelsea struggling to find any momentum at the moment, and still Albion look just about the more likely to score.
Costa goes to ground but the shouts are very muted. Matic was also appealing for something off the ball which wasn't given, as Chelsea continue to grow frustrated. Two more points thrown away, I'm afraid.
FULL TIME: CHELSEA 2-2 WEST BROMWICH ALBION
So there we have it - West Brom dig deep to claim a point away at the champions. They probably just about deserved it, too, having refused to sit back even when on level terms and finding a way through on a couple of occasions. More dropped points for Chelsea, though, who had looked to be right back on track prior to this evening.
Well that concludes Sports Mole's live text coverage of events at Stamford Bridge. Thank you for joining us on another memorable night of Premier League action!