Sunday, November 19, 2017
West Brom 0 Chelsea 4: Tony Pulis faces sack as Baggies battered and boos ring out at Hawthorns
Tony Pulis has built a career on being a fighter, but he sounded like a beaten man after watching West Bromwich Albion fall to a humiliating fourth successive Premier League defeat that left him on the brink of the sack.
With the club’s Chinese owner Guochuan Lai in the stands, the West Brom fans could not have made their feelings any clearer as they worked their way through a list of “Pulis out” chants that increased in volume after each Chelsea goal.
Pulis himself chose not to argue against the calls for his head and admitted that West Brom chairman John Williams had spoken to him in the dressing-room following the latest loss, but would not reveal what was said. There was certainly no suggestion he had received any reassurance over his position and it seems like a question of when and not if the axe falls.
“What is the right decision for the football club, that’s the most important thing,” said Pulis. “It’s not about me, the chairman or the owner. This club will be here long after I have gone.
“I have been in the game long enough to know what happens if you get on a bad run and a decision has to be made that is right for the club.”
Pulis travelled straight down to Bournemouth to meet with friends on Saturday night and added: “I met with the owner last night (Friday) and he is a really good person. John Williams came in the dressing-room after the game, but what we spoke about will remain private. We will see what happens.”
Pulis had used his programme notes to try to remind the West Brom fans, and possibly Lai, what he feels he has achieved during his time at the club. But the only fact that mattered to the fans who chanted “Tony Pulis, get out of our club” was that this was an 11th game in all competitions without a victory. They want a change and they want it now.
West Brom’s difficulty is the fact they first need somebody to get them out of a relegation scrap and Pulis would normally be considered the perfect man for that particular job.
Andre Villas-Boas and Roberto di Matteo were both sacked by Chelsea following defeats to West Brom, but current head coach Antonio Conte must love a trip to the Black Country. Conte’s Chelsea team clinched the Premier League title at The Hawthorns in May thanks to a last-gasp goal from Michy Batshuayi, but this game was over after just 38 minutes.
Having started brightly, West Brom collapsed once they went behind in the 17th minute to an Alvaro Morata goal. Eden Hazard’s shot was well saved by Ben Foster and Chelsea’s record signing reacted quickest to steer the ball into the net. Hazard celebrated the goal by going to the home fans, who had accused him of feigning injury a few minutes earlier.
The Belgian got his ultimate revenge by finishing off a wonderful move to double Chelsea’s lead shortly afterwards. A Cesc Fabregas pass was beautifully flicked through by Morata and Hazard beat Foster to the ball to score. The assist was the 12th Premier League goal Morata had been involved in since joining the Blues, scoring eight times and making four others.
Hearing the West Brom fans join the Chelsea travelling support in singing “You’re getting sacked in the morning” will have hurt Pulis, but not as much as the manner in which his team conceded a third before half-time. Fabregas found Marcos Alonso completely unmarked at the back post with a free-kick and the left-back could not really miss. For a man who prides himself on set-piece organisation, that felt like game over for Pulis.
Alonso’s goal sparked chants of “Get out of our club” and “Tony Pulis, your football is s***, with boos ringing out around The Hawthorns when the half-time whistle went.
Needing a miracle to get his team back into the match, Pulis sent on defensive midfielder Claudio Yacob for the second period but it was not long until things got even worse. Foster managed to stop one Hazard shot with his legs, but the forward netted his second and Chelsea’s fourth goal just after the hour mark, and, once again, it was far too easy. Fabregas played a perfect pass over the West Brom midfield for Hazard, who held off Ahmed Hegazi and checked back before firing the ball into the net.
The goal sparked a mass exodus among the home fans and those who stayed attempted to reinforce their point to Lai by chanting “We want Pulis out.” It will be a surprise if they do not get their wish.
A comfortable win was the perfect preparation for a Champions League trip to Qarabag for Chelsea, but Conte is unhappy with the fixture scheduling.
“We are going to play against Qarabag and we will land at 5am or 6am on Thursday morning, and then we play a great game against Liverpool on Saturday,” said Conte. “Is it normal? I don’t think so. If someone wants more balance then they must pay great attention to the fixtures.”
West Brom 0-4 Chelsea: Pressure builds on Tony Pulis as Baggies are battered by Eden Hazard double with Alvaro Morata and Marcos Alonso also scoring
By Laurie Whitwell
All the components that would see Tony Pulis sacked by West Bromwich Albion arrived in a desolate defeat to Chelsea that left the manager of a thousand games wearing a thousand-yard stare.
When Eden Hazard added a fourth Chelsea goal in the 63rd minute, Pulis' fixed face read like he knows his fate. It was the moment that prompted an exodus by home fans and further calls for Pulis to go.
The most damning element to this 4-0 loss however was the players, who seemingly conceded defeat as soon as Chelsea went ahead in the first half. The second period felt much like a practice game, with West Brom simply going through the motions rather than putting up a fight for their beleaguered boss.
If, as expected, this becomes Pulis' last match in charge it would be a sorry end for a man who guided West Brom to 10th last term and in parts brought entertaining football in his near three-year reign.
But with Guochuan Lai, West Brom's owner, watching in the stands beside chairman John Williams, the writing looks on the wall.
West Brom's run extended to two wins from 21 Premier League games and though they are not yet in the relegation zone, kept afloat by a point, they will fall below the dreaded dotted line should West Ham beat Watford at Vicarage Road on Sunday.
For Antonio Conte, no stranger to speculation himself, this was a victory that had travelling supporters singing his name repeatedly. A fourth Premier League win in a row shows the Italian still has whatever it was that took Chelsea to last season's title and though a successful defence may be out of reach they are perhaps the best-equipped team to challenge Manchester City.
The focus though, will all be on Pulis, whose post-match press conference sounded like a farewell speech.
He said: 'The big thing is this is not about me, it's not about the chairman, the owners or anything else. It's about the football club and what is the right decision for the football club.'
Asked if the right decision would be for him to be relieved of his duties, Pulis said: 'I've been in the game long enough to know if you get bad runs that's what happens.
'I met with the Chinese owners last night. They are wonderful people but I know as much as anyone you have to get results.
'John came into the dressing room as he always does. What we spoke about is private, and he's a good man. We'll have to see what happens.'
Pulis' programme notes had read almost like a pitch for his next job, a detailed defence of his West Brom tenure, and in the opening exchanges his team showed energy to match. Salomon Rondon even headed past Thibaut Courtois, but the flag was up for offside.
However Chelsea sucked the life from West Brom by opening the scoring in the 17th minute. Hazard twisted free of Gareth Barry and struck a potent shot that swirled in the air and forced Ben Foster to parry. Alvaro Morata made converting the rebound look easier than it was, for his eighth Premier League goal of the campaign.
Instead of celebrating Hazard complained to referee Jon Moss about a hefty earlier challenge from Barry that left him on the floor, and still riled moments later the Belgian charged in late on Grzegorz Krychowiak to earn the clearest of bookings.
Six minutes later he was charging through West Brom's defence. Cesc Fabregas had fired a pass up to Morata, who beautifully flicked the ball on so Hazard was in. Foster was hasty in coming out and Hazard rounded to convert.
That brought the first sounds of dissent from home fans and in the 38th minute they grew louder when West Brom conceded in an area of the game that Pulis can usually depend on.
Fabregas had a free-kick by the area and simply chipped the ball to the far post, where Marcos Alonso was waiting unmarked to volley in from a tight angle. It was a good finish but the lack of defensive rigour was disquieting.
At half-time Pulis sent on Claudio Yacob, who may not have seemed the most obvious catalyst for a comeback, but did engender a positive reaction from the crowd given his years of service.
But what followed was a 45-minute procession where the only question was how many Conte's team would score.
Hazard saw a shot saved by Foster, then Morata the same. In the 63rd minute the fourth arrived and again the simplicity tore away at Pulis' reputation for being hard to break down.
Fabregas chipped a fine ball over the top to Hazard, who collected, drifted inside Ahmed Hegazi, and promptly buried a finish into the corner of the net.
That sparked a steady flow of people leaving and at the final whistle those who had stayed grew angry in their chants for 'Pulis out'. There would not be any surprise to see the call heeded.
WBA (3-5-1-1): Foster 5; Hegazi 4, McAuley 6, Evans 6; Phillips 6.5 (McClean 84), Livermore 6, Barry 6, Krychowiak 3 (Yacob 46, 6), Gibbs 5; Rodriguez 5 (Burke 70, 5); Rondon 4
Unused subs: Myhill, Nyom, Brunt, Robson-Kanu
Bookings: Rondon 55, Yacob 89
Manager: Tony Pulis 6
Chelsea (3-5-1-1): Courtois 7; Azpilicueta 7, Christensen 7.5, Cahill 7; Zappacosta 7, Bakayoko 7, Kante 7 (Willian 77), Fabregas 8 (Drinkwater 68, 6), Alonso 7; Hazard 9 (Pedro 71, 6); Morata 8
Unused subs: Caballero, Rudiger, David Luiz, Ampadu
Goals: Morata 17, Hazard 23, 63, Alonso 38
Bookings: Hazard 19, Fabregas 50, Morata 90
Manager: Antonio Conte 8
Referee: Jon Moss 7
West Bromwich Albion fans call for Tony Pulis' head as Hazard-inspired Chelsea run riot at the Hawthorns
West Brom 0 Chelsea 4: The Hawthorns crowd wanted Pulis' head after an embarrassing first half where Chelsea scored three unanswered goals, adding another after the break
Eden Hazard led the way as Chelsea cruised to victory at The Hawthorns to leave West Brom head coach Tony Pulis on the brink.
Hazard scored a goal in each half with his second on 62 minutes sending thousands of Albion fans streaming for the exits while those that remained called for Pulis’s head.
The Belgian also played a major hand in Alvaro Morata’s opener while Marcos Alonso also found the net as Antonio Conte’s men coasted to victory.
Their win left Pulis with just two wins from his last 21 Premier League games with angry fans amid a generally subdued Hawthorns atmosphere demanding his removal.
With owner Guochuan Lai travelling from China to watch the game and Baggies directors known to be concerned at the alarming slump in form, Pulis faces a fight to remain in charge for next weekend’s trip to Tottenham.
Yet it was the Baggies who made the brightest start with three early crosses from Matt Phillips, deployed as a right wing-back, causing problems for the champions.
The first two narrowly evaded waiting team-mates but the third was headed into the net by the towering Salomon Rondon with the aid of a fumble from Thibaut Courtois, only for an offside flag to put paid to any celebrations.
A spirited forward run by Jay Rodriguez brought more hope for the hosts with his through-ball directed towards Rondon, but the Venezuelan was dispossessed by Cesar Azpilicueta.
Chelsea had struggled to turn possession into chances but on 14 minutes they went close when Tiemoue Bakayoko turned Gareth McAuley on the edge of the box and saw a shot deflected wide.
Just three minutes later the visitors were ahead as Hazard, who had been down injured, got back to his feet and hit a shot that was parried by goalkeeper Ben Foster, only for Morata to turn in the rebound.
And once they were behind, Pulis’s side capitulated.
Marcos Alonso dragged a shot wide for the visitors, who then made it 2-0 on 23 minutes.
It was poor, static defending from the hosts but the flick from Morata to turn a Cesc Fabregas pass into the path of Hazard was sublime.
The Belgium did the rest, rounding Foster and finding the gaping net.
After appearing shellshocked in the immediate aftermath of the goals, West Brom applied a little pressure with Jake Livermore firing over the crossbar and Ahmed Hegazi heading just wide from a Gareth Barry corner.
The third goal arrived seven minutes before half-time when Hegazi wrestled Morata to the floor, Fabregas delivered a free-kick and Albion left Alonso unmarked to score at the far post.
Rondon made some headway early in the second half for Albion with Jay Rodriguez shooting narrowly wide before Gary Cahill made a vital challenge to snuff out another Rondon run.
But Chelsea were soon back on the front foot with Fabregas booked harshly by referee Jon Moss for diving when he appeared to collide with Gareth McAuley in the West Brom box.
There was little reaction to Pulis’s plight from his players in the second half despite a half-time change in system and personnel that saw the combative Claudio Yacob replacing the ineffective Grzegorz Krychowiak.
Hazard added to their pain with 28 minutes remaining as more statuesque home defending allowed him to collect a difficult high ball.
From there he sidestepped Hegazi and McAuley before bending a shot past a helpless Ben Foster.
That led to a mass exodus from home supporters but those who stayed mustered brief chants of ‘we want Pulis out’.
There were some louder chants of 'Pulis Out' as clock ticked over to 90 minutes and choruses of 'Tony Pulis, your football is s***'.
West Brom (3-5-2): Foster; McAuley, Evans, Hegazi; Phillips (McClean 84), Livermore, Krychowiak (Yacob HT), Barry, Gibbs; Rondon, Rodriguez (Burke 70). Subs not used: Myhill, Nyom, Robson-Kanu, Brunt. Booked: Rondon, Yacob.
Chelsea (3-4-3): Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Cahill; Zappacosta, Kante (William 77), Bakayoko, Alonso; Hazard (Pedro 70), Fabregas (Drinkwater 67); Morata. Subs not used: Caballero, Rudiger, David Luiz, Ampadu. Booked: Hazard, Fabregas, Morata.
Referee: Jonathan Moss (West Yorkshire)
Tony Pulis on the brink after four-goal Chelsea hammer West Brom
West Brom 0 - 4 Chelsea
Stuart James at The Hawthorns
The message was loud and clear as the home supporters spelt out to Guochuan Lai, the club’s Chinese owner, exactly what they think of Tony Pulis. Anger and frustration has been bubbling away here for a while, yet this was the afternoon when patience finally snapped. “We want Pulis out,” was chanted repeatedly by a fanbase that is no longer willing to tolerate the sight of him in charge of a team in freefall.
“You’re getting sacked in the morning” and “Tony Pulis, your football is shit” also reverberated as Chelsea brutally exposed the brittle confidence in a side that has now won two of their past 21 Premier League matches and collected 12 points in the process. It is relegation form and Pulis appears powerless to arrest the slide.
Lai had scheduled this visit around six weeks ago but it could not have been more timely and it was tempting to wonder what was going through his mind as he watched such a listless performance on the pitch and listened to the scathing criticism of Pulis from the stands. Pulis’s position felt untenable come the end and the 59-year-old sounded like a man who is resigned to his fate when he attended the post-match press conference,
The empty seats before the game told a story – faith was lost in these parts a long time ago – and so did the sight of many others leaving with 27 minutes remaining. Eden Hazard had just scored his second and Chelsea’s fourth as they coasted to a fourth successive Premier League victory.
This had turned into an exercise in damage limitation for Albion long before half-time. Chelsea were 3-0 up after only 38 minutes and, as well as the Premier League champions played at times, it was alarming to see a team managed by Pulis defending so shambolically. There was so much time and space for Chelsea to exploit and the visitors were not going to pass up the opportunity.
Álvaro Morata continued his excellent start to the season, netting Chelsea’s first from close range and setting up the second for Hazard, taking his tally to eight goals and four assists in the league. Marcos Alonso then scored Chelsea’s third, taking advantage of some appalling marking from a set-piece, before Hazard added the goal that reflected the gulf in quality between the two sides.
Antonio Conte will have few easier afternoons in the dugout. “The game became easy because we started very well,” said Chelsea’s manager, who senses that his team are finding some form. “Last season we won 13 games in a row and I must be honest, in this league it’s not simple to have this type of run, because every game you have to play with great concentration. But four wins in a row is important for us and our confidence. We started this season with many problems but we are trying slowly to find the right solution.”
Morata certainly seems like the answer up front. The Spaniard’s opening goal was routine enough but it was an exquisite flick he produced from Cesc Fàbregas’s pass to set Hazard free for Chelsea’s second. Hazard rounded Ben Foster with the minimum of fuss, rolled the ball into the empty net and already, with 23 minutes gone, it felt like there was no way back for Albion.
That feeling was reinforced when Alonso added the third. Fàbregas, who was involved in three of Chelsea’s four goals, delivered a free-kick from wide on the left and it is no exaggeration to say that there was no defender within five yards of Alonso, who volleyed high into the roof of the net with the angle against him at the far post.
Toothless up front, overrun in midfield and wide open at the back, Albion were all over the place and it was no surprise when Chelsea grabbed a fourth. Fàbregas’s fine lofted pass released Hazard in behind and the Belgian twisted away from Ahmed Hegazi before dispatching a low shot into the bottom corner. The game was up for Albion. And it surely is for Pulis, too.
West Brom 0 Chelsea 4: Blues run riot at the Hawthorns and pile the pressure on Tony Pulis
TONY PULIS was clinging to his job by his fingernails – and that was before they were savaged by the champions.
By Peter Oakes at The Hawthorns
It will take a miracle for him to survive and at this rate if he does stay on and cannot turn it around quickly then the Baggies are boing, boing down.
Albion owner Guochuan Lai is as hard to read as any Chinese billionaire and did not show his feelings as he had a first-hand view of his side’s capitulation.
But you can only imagine the thoughts swirling around the head of Lai as Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas and Alvaro Morata took West Brom apart.
It was an embarrassing humiliation for Pulis and what is even more worrying than the scoreline is the fact that Chelsea did not have to work that hard.
Pulis’ teams have never been easy on the eye but always had a toughness and unwillingness to be a soft touch for anyone. Not anymore as this latest mauling means they have gone 11 games without a win.
Hazard got the ball rolling in only the 17th minute, ghosting through a couple of weak challenges and forcing Ben Foster down to his right. The goalkeeper got a hand to it but could only scoop it into Morata’s feet and the Spaniard made it eight Premier League goals so far.
Six minutes later the roles were reversed as the striker’s slick flick gave the Belgian the chance to evade the onrushing Foster and finish calmly.
Then Fabregas’ free-kick sailed over everyone to Marcos Alonso who bundled it over the line at the far post. A measure of Albion’s awful display – they were booed off at half-time and full-time – came within a minute of the restart with the biggest cheer of the day for interval substitute Claudio Yacob actually winning a tackle!
The Argentinean scrapper has been in the Premier League cold since the opening game of the season – one of only two the Baggies have won – but he was powerless as Hazard made it four in the 62nd minute.
Eagle-eyed Fabregas spotted him as the furthest man forward and picked him out with a floated pass. Centre-backs Ahmed Hegazi and Gareth McAuley stood off the playmaker who had time to pick his spot.
Albion did give Chelsea the odd problem with high balls and set-pieces but Jay Rodriguez headed tamely straight at Thibaut Courtois from eight yards out.
At least the Baggies looked more up for it after the break without ever troubling Courtois. But they were still susceptible, Foster getting his foot to another Hazard effort.
The only time Chelsea boss Antonio Conte had a fright was in the dying minutes as Morata was booked for a tackle and then foolishly kicked the ball away. A few referees would have sent him packing but Jon Moss just spoke to skipper Cesar Azpilicueta and had a stern word with the striker.
Pulis said: “I think we have got better players this year than last year, I think the squad is stronger but we need results and we have not got the results we want.
“I have been in the game long enough to know if you get bad results. Everything’s about now and not what you have done in the past.
“I’m disappointed that we haven’t got the results we were hoping for and I think the players worked hard but the goals were awful, the four goals were really poor goals.
“You have to defend better, it’s not just the first, it’s the second one, the third one and the fourth one – they shouldn’t be goals we are conceding.”
Conte slammed fixtures bosses and believes they could cost Chelsea the title. The Blues face a 6,000-mile round trip to Baku to face Azerbaijan champions Qarabag on Wednesday ahead of Saturday night’s showdown away to Liverpool.
They had to cope with a similar sleep-depriving journey at the start of October when they won 2-1 at Atletico Madrid before losing 1-0 at home to Manchester City.
Conte said: “We came back at 5am on the Thursday and played on the Saturday.
“They must pay more attention to these type of fixtures and give other teams the same facility. If we had won against Manchester City the distance between us is not so great.
“Now we have to play on Wednesday night and then get back to London at five or six o’clock in the morning and then we have another great game on the Saturday.
“Is it normal? If someone wants more balance in this league they must pay great attention to the fixtures.”
But at least the Italian was able to rest Hazard, N’Golo Kante and Fabregas, bringing them off early.
He added: “Wednesday’s game is the most important game of the season because we have the possibility with a win to go through to the next round in the Champions League.
“To start an important week this way was very important for our confidence. This game became easy because we started very well with great focus and played very well.”
BLUES CRUISE West Brom 0 Chelsea 4: Blues batter Baggies as Alvaro Morata and Eden Hazard run amok in hammering at the Hawthorns
Antonio Conte's men jumped up to second in the Premier League after hot start saw game sealed well before half-time
By Andrew Dillon and Dave Fraser
EDEN HAZARD took a kick on the leg and then well and truly put the boot into West Brom.
Chelsea’s little dynamo scored a goal and set up another as the Premier League champions ran riot on the ground where they clinched the title last season.
And in doing so they nudged under-pressure Albion boss Tony Pulis closer to the sack after his team crumbled right in front of the club’s watching Chinese owners.
Capitulation, boos from the home fans and seeing them streaming for the exits even before half time made the afternoon even more painful.
And all after a relatively bright start in which Salomon Rondon had the ball in the net after only four minutes only for it to be ruled fractionally offside.
It was soon after that Hazard felt the pain of Gareth Barry’s studs down the side of his leg, just above the ankle. And it turned the match.
Hazard got angry but channeled his frustration into a spellbinding virtuoso half hour performance in which Chelsea went out and won the game.
On 17 minutes the little Belgian ran into the Albion box, turning Ahmed Hegazi neatly. Hazard’s powerful shot was stopped but not held by keeper Ben Foster.
Alvaro Morata reacted quickest and rammed the rebound into an empty net to give Chelsea the lead.
Six minutes later Morata returned the favour, flicking a tidy pass through the centre circle into Hazard’s path with a deft move of his right ankle.
Hazard was set free to race clear, beat Foster to the ball and then bury his shot again into an unguarded net for two-nil.
It was all over seven minutes before half time when Morata won a free kick on the edge of the box.
Fabregas lifted the cross over everybody except left wing back Marcos Alonso, out of position on the right but still totally unmarked at the far post to volley in the softest of goals.
Chelsea fans taunted Pulis with chants about getting the sack - and Baggies fans joined in.
Hazard scored his second and Chelsea’s fourth in the 62nd minute when more ragged defending allowed him time to pick his spot and shoot from 18 yards.
STATS, FACTS, GOALS & LOLS
Ahead of kick-off, West Brom had lost 16 of their 22 Premier League games against Chelsea, their joint-highest total (Arsenal and Manchester City).
Chelsea had won on their two most-recent visits to The Hawthorns, even securing the 2016-17 Premier League title thanks to a Michy Batshuayi goal in May.
The game was Antonio Conte's 50th Premier League match.
Marcos Alonso squeezes in Chelsea's third before half-time at West Brom
Ahead of the game, Morata had been directly involved in ten goals in ten league games for Chelsea... before scoring and adding an assist in the West Brom game.
Eden Hazard has scored five Premier League goals against West Brom - his joint-most against any team (level with Bournemouth).
WHAT THEY SAID
Chelsea star Eden Hazard: "Manchester City are winning a lot of games but we want to close the gap. You never know in the Premier League.
"Last year we won 12 or 13 games in a row so why not again? We have to be ready for that."
West Brom 0-4 Chelsea: Hazard inspires Blues to easy win as pressure cranks up on Pulis - 5 talking points
The champions sprinted to a 3-0 first-half lead as they moved up to second place in the table
Tony Pulis' West Brom reign is close to breaking point after this heavy home beating by champions Chelsea .
Alvaro Morata, Eden Hazard and Marcos Alonso were on target for Chelsea in the first half.
It extends Albion's dire run to just two wins in 21 games under Pulis.
Home fans called for his head as the Baggies were jeered off at half-time and the final whistle.
Morata struck in the 17th minute after Hazard had a shot saved before the Spaniard flicked the ball for Hazard to net himself with a cool finish.
While defender Alonso was inexplicably unmarked at the back post to volley in Cesc Fabregas' free-kick in the 38th minute.
After the break Hazard produced his second fine finish of the match from Fabregas' ball before Antonio Conte subbed some of his stars.
1. Hazard revels in winding up WBA
Hazard annoyed the home fans as he went down injured in the first half before slowly getting up and quickly inspiring the visitors into the lead. Hazard stayed down as Albion played on but rose to his feet to jeers from the home support. He then saw his left-foot shot from outside the area palmed away from Ben Foster for Morata to convert in the 17th minute. Then Hazard got on the scoresheet himself in the 23rd minute after a clever flick by Morata. He celebrated with a knee-slide infront of the home fans in the Birmingham Road End which did not go down well. He also produced another fine finish in the second half.
2. Recall for bad-boy Luiz
Chelsea's £34million defender David Luiz was left in the stands for the champions' previous game at home to Manchester United. The Brazilian,30, paid the price for questioning Conte's tactics. Chelsea named the same starting XI from the win over United but Luiz was back on the bench at The Hawthorns as Conte begins to re-integrate him back into the squad.
3. Pulis pens his point
Under-fire Tony Pulis used his programme notes to launch a stiff defence of his reign at WBA.
He emphasised how he has turned the club around since joining in 2015 , when they were in the drop zone, by shipping out various dud signings, blooding youngsters and working with the out-going and in-coming board to help sell the club, while it continues to make a profit.
4. Krychowiak struggles
Polish midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak was hailed as a huge coup by both Pulis and pundits when he arrived from PSG on loan in August after previously costing the Paris club around £28m a year earlier. Pulis has given him every chance but he has simply not made an impact. He was fortunate to keep his place for Chelsea's visit as he made his 10th start but was subbed at half-time and replaced by the popular Claudio Yacob , who got stuck in and was well received by the crowd.
5. Drinkwater plays
Danny Drinkwater got pelters for turning down an England call-up for friendlies against Germany and Brazil as he continues his rehabilitation after recent injury problems.
He came in for some heavy criticism for his apparent snub and the haters will be unimpressed to see he was fit to come on as sub here - as Jose Mourinho predicted when he complained about Phil Jones' injury - to replace Fabregas who helped create three goals
Birmingham Express and Star:
West Brom 0 Chelsea 4
By Matt Wilson
Baggies boss Tony Pulis is on the brink tonight following a damaging 4-0 rout at home to the champions.
Chants of 'You're getting sacked in the morning', 'Your football is s**t' and 'Pulis out' were directed his way from disillusioned Albion fans who watched their team slip to their fourth straight defeat.
Three first half goals knocked the stuffing out of the home side, who actually started brightly before a clinical Chelsea team turned on the style, but home fans were streaming out by the hour mark when the fourth went in.
Those that stayed made their feelings felt at full-time with further calls for the head coach to be sacked, and with owner Guochuan Lai watching on alongside chairman John Williams after jetting in from China for the game, Pulis's job now hangs in the balance.
It is now 11 games without a win in all competitions, and just two victories in the past 21 league games - the worst run in his managerial career.
It was telling that the most threatening player going forward was Matt Phillips and the defensive player who showed the most fight was substitute Claudio Yacob - two players who have been unable to get in the team recently.
Before the game, Pulis hit back at the fans in his programme notes by starting a staunch defence of his time at The Hawthorns with the words, 'Talking about reminding people...'
It came after the away end had turned on him at Huddersfield, but despite the muted build-up inside The Hawthorns before the game, Albion's fans were soon getting behind their team thanks to a bright start.
Pulis kept faith in the 5-3-2 formation that has struggled in recent weeks, but brought Phillips in for Allan Nyom at right wing-back and Salomon Rondon in for Hal Robson-Kanu up front - and it was working in the opening stages.
Jake Livermore created the first opening three minutes in by skipping away from two Chelsea midfielders before finding Phillips on the wing.
His low cross nearly found Rondon but was turned away, but it came back in and was headed on target by Jay Rodriguez.
A minute later Rondon had the ball in the net with a header from a Phillips cross that Thibaut Courtois fumbled into his net, but the Venezuelan had strayed half a yard offside and it was correctly ruled out.
That bright start lifted the mood at the ground, and the home crowd were soon roaring on their team.
Minutes later Rodriguez slipped Rondon through on goal but Albion's No.9 was muscled off the ball too easily and the chance went begging.
It proved costly, because 17 minutes in, the visiting champions took the lead.
Eden Hazard, who had just been complaining of injury, sprung back to life and drove towards goal before fizzing a low shot towards the the far corner.
Foster did well to get a glove onto it, but he could only push it out to Morata, who gleefully tucked hom the rebound for his eighth league goal of the season.
If that goal was a kick in the teeth, the next one just seven minutes later knocked the stuffing out of Albion - and it was a clinical and classy move from Chelsea.
Cesc Fabregas fired the ball into Morata with his back to goal 35 yards out, but his gorgeous first-time flick on was enough to entice Foster off his line and into a footrace with Hazard.
The Belgian won it, and rounded the keeper with ease before tucking home Chelsea's second and celebrating with glee in front of the Birmingham Road End who had been booing him moments previously for making the most of a challenge.
Albion didn't give up though, and Phillips in particular looked threatening down the right. Unafraid to run at messrs Alonso and Cahill, his performance on the wing made you wonder why it had taken this long for Pulis to pick him.
And the crowd didn't turn at 2-0, they realised their team had been cut open by a superior team.
No, the goal that really took the sting out of the game and left the fans fuming was the third, eight minutes before half-time. Because unlike the first two, it was san inexcusable goal to concede.
Fabregas clipped a routine free-kick to the back post where Alonso was criminally unmarked, and so the Spaniard guided the ball into the roof of the net unchallenged.
After that, Albion's players were walking around shell-shocked until half-time - potentially aware of the gravitas of the scoreline.
Pulis dragged Paris Saint-Germain loanee Grzegorz Krychowiak off at half-time and replaced him with Claudio Yacob, who immediately added more fight than the Pole.
A tackle that won the ball from Fabregas in midfield drew the loudest cheer of the day from the home end, and when he rounded on the Spaniard for diving in the Baggies box, it was warmly received by supporters.
The Argentinian was obviously up for it, because he had a set-to with Morata soon after, just before Rondon was also booked for diving in the box.
Despite Yacob's attempts to ruffle a few feathers, the champions were in complete control, and they made it four shortly after the hour mark with another simple goal.
Fabregas's ball over the top was a straight one, but it found Hazard in acres, and the Belgian checked back inside Hegazi before curling his second goal of the afternoon into the far corner.
That prompted a mass exodus of Albion fans with half an hour still to go and more chants of 'Pulis Out' from the Smethwick End.
The Baggies boss sent Oliver Burke on with 15 minutes to go, and then gave James McClean seven minutes to make a difference.
The winger immediately stole the ball of Davide Zappacosta and rushed towards Courtois one-on-one, but just as those fans who had stayed started to beleive they would be rewarded with a consolation, McClean screwed his shot wide of the post.
What happens now is up to Lai and Williams.
05 Rondon heads Phillips's left-footed cross into the net, but it's correctly ruled out for offside.
17 GOAL CHELSEA - Morata tucks home the rebound after Foster does well to save Hazard's fizzing low shot.
23 GOAL CHELSEA - Fabregas fires the ball into Morata, whose glorious flick-on entices Foster to come out, but Hazard beats him to it and rounds the keeper ebfore finding the net.
37 GOAL CHELSEA - Fabregas clips a free-kick to the back post and an unmarked Alonso guides it unchallenged into the roof of the net.
63 GOAL CHELSEA - A simple ball over the top from Fabregas finds Hazard. He cuts back inside Hegazi before finding the net with ease.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Eden Hazard - Had a hand in three goals, scoring two of them.
POSITION IN THE TABLE
17th, with 10 points from 12 games.
Albion (5-3-2): Foster; Gibbs, McAuley, Hegazi, Evans (c), Phillips (McClean 84); Barry, Livermore, Krychowiak (Yacob 45); Rodriguez (Burke 70), Rondon. Unused subs: Myhill, Nyom, Brunt, Robson-Kanu.
Chelsea (3-5-2): Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Cahill (c); Zappacosta, Bakayoko, Kante (Willian 77), Fabregas (Drinkwater 67), Alonso; Hazard, Morata. Unused subs: Caballero, Rudiger, David Luiz, Amapdu, Pedro.
Referee: Jon Moss (Horsforth)
Attendance: 23,592 (2,733 away)
Saturday, November 11, 2017
Chelsea 1 - 0 Man Utd
Álvaro Morata heads Chelsea to victory over Manchester United
This is the kind of result to stifle talk of crisis at Chelsea. The Premier League’s summit may remain distant but the joyous din which erupted inside the ground at the final whistle was an outpouring of relief. Antonio Conte celebrated manically, fists raised in triumph towards those in the upper tier of the East stand, before striding out on to the pitch to acknowledge each side of the ground in turn. José Mourinho waited near the tunnel to shake his counterpart’s hand but eventually gave up. He looked distinctly unimpressed to be enduring Conte’s moment.
It may seem vaguely ludicrous that a head coach who has now overseen 37 wins from his 49 Premier League games in charge could be considered under pressure but Conte had needed this victory. That humiliation in Rome in midweek had left him embattled, with suggestions the hierarchy had not taken kindly to the realism with which he has approached a cluttered campaign, and the first murmurings of discontent within the playing squad surfacing with every setback.
Yet against imposing opponents in Manchester United, and not for the first time since he arrived in England, his major decisions paid off: his side played with the same system, style and swagger as at Atlético Madrid in September; N’Golo Kanté’s reintegration in midfield was key to a second clean sheet in nine games; Andreas Christensen, preferred to David Luiz in the middle of the back three, was mightily impressive.
The Brazilian had worn heavy strapping on his right leg at the Stadio Olimpico but had been omitted here for “tactical reasons”, according to Conte, with the implication it was down to shoddy form. The Italian had pointed pre-match to Christensen’s early-season displays and to the fact “the club likes to bring in a young player” when it came to Ethan Ampadu, a 17-year-old without any experience of top-flight football, being preferred on the bench over David Luiz.
After the match Conte suggested David Luiz would have “to work really hard, or [risk to] be on the bench or in the stand”. As it was, the defender sat behind the dugouts next to his compatriot Kenedy, whose yawn in Thursday’s debrief had been noted, and watched his team-mates put in their most convincing display for more than a month. It will be intriguing to see how such a charismatic figure now forces his way back into the fold. Certainly his team-mates have demonstrated they can do without him.
It was tempting to wonder whether Mourinho’s presence in the dugout had merely coaxed the best from Chelsea, as it once did so often when he was on the payroll. His current team never showed any real control on this occasion, their few chances squeezed out on the break – they mustered only two on target all afternoon – until a late rally which threatened to earn them an equaliser they would not have merited. Their own gap from Manchester City is now eight points, which “is not the same as eight points in the Portuguese league, La Liga, the Bundesliga”‚ according to the manager.
The disappointment was in their inability to wound their hosts, with Marouane Fellaini’s late volley, turned away smartly by Thibaut Courtois, the closest they came to reward. Marcus Rashford’s was a pesky presence but there was no real rhythm to their approach and, without their injured absentees, they were forced too often into retreat. Romelu Lukaku, one spin and shot from distance aside, was isolated and contained. Teams far less imposing than United have created considerably more against these opponents this term, and that ended up feeling rather damning.
Admittedly Kanté’s energetic presence was significant and inevitably bolstered Chelsea’s collective. The champions had kept only one clean sheet during his six-game absence, with a hamstring injury sustained on international duty with France. Yet it was the home side’s attacking play which truly caught the eye. Their goal had been forged in familiar fashion, César Azpilicueta flinging over one of those trademark diagonal crosses from which Diego Costa and Álvaro Morata have benefited in recent times. The Spaniard met it emphatically, having trundled unnoticed into the space between United’s centre-halves with Chris Smalling drawn towards Tiémoué Bakayoko’s run, to plant his header beyond a static David de Gea and leave Mourinho cursing another miserable homecoming.
But Chelsea should have had more to show for their dominance. The excellent Eden Hazard, whose ankles had been kicked raw by the end, was denied regularly by De Gea, Cesc Fàbregas nodded into the side-netting from close range, Bakayoko missed two glorious opportunities and the referee, Anthony Taylor, penalised Morata for a push on Phil Jones early on after the defender had inadvertently conjured a volley as he crumpled clumsily which arrowed the ball into the top corner.
Each miss had left Conte agonised on the touchline, his impatience drawing warnings from the fourth official, Craig Pawson, for encroachment as Mourinho watched on, presumably wondering if he would be treated quite so leniently. But this was the Italian’s day. “We can win or lose but our spirit must be this,” said Conte. “We started this season with a lot of problems. We were up and down. But this game showed that, if we want it, we can do it.”
Chelsea 1 Manchester United 0: Antonio Conte comes out on top as Alvaro Morata scores winning header
This was the afternoon when Chelsea reignited their season and, maybe, sent the Premier League torch on its way back towards Manchester. Not to United, who were beaten here, their dull limitations exposed by Chelsea’s vibrancy, but across the city to the Etihad Stadium.
An eight-point lead has been established going into the international break, nine in effect when Manchester City’s vastly superior goal difference is factored in, and even though we are only 11 rounds of matches into this campaign, it is already appearing to be a formidable gap to close.
Of course, it can happen, Jose Mourinho said so, and a serial winner such as the United manager should know, but the words of Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte before this predictably spiky encounter were the most prescient: the “big problem”, he said, were City. “If they continue in this way, it will be very difficult to fight for the title,” Conte had said.
City are continuing in this way, sweeping aside Arsenal, despite Arsene Wenger’s protestations of incompetence from the officials, and cheating from City, and it may soon begin to be an almighty tussle simply to finish in the top four behind them. Either way, Chelsea could not afford to lose this fixture, Conte could not afford to lose it, for sure, given his position, given the tension and given his antipathy towards his predecessor, Mourinho. There was always that edge.
It was there before kick-off, when Conte did not look Mourinho in the eye as the United manager offered his hand, and it was there at the final whistle when the Italian fist-pumped in delight before studiously marching away on to the pitch. He simply did not want to acknowledge, to receive, to interact with, Mourinho who has got under his skin but did not get the points.
“Antonio, Antonio,” rang round Stamford Bridge and it washed away some of the angst that had resurfaced with the chaotic Champions League defeat away to Roma and which had provoked recriminations and inquests and led to David Luiz being unceremoniously dumped from the team and his future questioned.
Given Luiz’s status, his popularity with the Chelsea hierarchy, it was a decision that might have deeper consequences although his replacement, Andreas Christensen, 21, was outstanding. Maybe Conte should trust in youth a little more, also. But, in truth, the biggest difference was the return of N’Golo Kante who has been sorely missed for six matches with a damaged hamstring – Chelsea only won three of those games, and only one convincingly – and eclipsed Nemanja Matic. So much has been made of Matic’s controversial move to United but his importance to Chelsea has been overblown as Kante proved on this dominant occasion.
It was not the only direct matchup with consequences with a comparison to be made between Alvaro Morata and Romelu Lukaku, the two big-money strikers, neither of whom has scored for six matches. And Morata could as easily have lined up for United as Lukaku could have gone back to Chelsea. Instead it was the other way round and Morata came out on top.
His towering header settled it and although he spurned a number of other chances, making a terrible hash of an injury-time opportunity when he was set clear on goal by substitute Willian, before falling over, the young Spaniard deserved the plaudits. In the first-half, he had cut a frustrated figure, even appearing to twice to throw himself to the turf in search of punishment for the United defenders he felt had roughed him up, but then he ghosted between them to reach Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross to send an imperious, trademark header back across David De Gea and high into the net.
United had lost the ball to allow that goal, Henrikh Mkhitaryan was the guilty party, and despite Mourinho’s protestations of parity between the two sides, they played a curious game. They initially went for it, they cut loose but then they, tactically, appeared to be caught between two approaches and ultimately paid the price for not continuing to go at Chelsea when they were gettable.
Chances had been traded. It was thunderous, at times, a bit too bone-jarringly frantic also, and, in fact, the ball was in the United net inside the first 10 minutes with Phil Jones volleying spectacularly past a bemused De Gea. Fortunately for United, Morata was adjudged to have pushed the United defender.
Then, at the other end, Marcus Rashford should have scored as he met Ashley Young’s cross only for him to cushion his header on to the roof of the net with Thibaut Courtois stranded. The openness continued – Tiemoue Bakayoko side-footed wastefully wide, Lukaku turned sharply but could not bend his shot around Courtois and then Cesc Fabregas headed into the side-netting from close-range as he met a rebound when De Gea had superbly beaten out a fierce drive by the impressive Eden Hazard. On half-time there was one, final clear chance as Christensen reached a corner only to head – or rather shoulder – the ball over the cross-bar. There were recriminations after that, also, among the United players and they will have continued at the interval with both managers, presumably, imploring more. But it was Chelsea who seized the initiative. United paid for their rising conservatism, in fact.
After Hazard had swept a first-time shot, from a fine Fabregas cross, straight at De Gea, Chelsea struck through Morata and United appeared shaken. It took them time – too long – to rally with Chelsea racking up more chances as United substitute Marouane Fellaini was caught in possession by Bakayoko who shot, when he should have played the ball through to Morata and then Hazard was guilty of the same offence although at least he drew a save. Finally, United created an opening with the ball dropping to Rashford on the edge of the area but he flashed a snapshot narrowly past the post. They went closer when Fellaini chested the ball down and shot low only for Courtois to push it away before, after Morata’s blunder, Rashford’s free-kick was deflected just over the bar.
But Chelsea had their win, and deservedly so while for Mourinho it is now 10 games, no victories and just one goal in away games against the other ‘top six’ clubs, as first Chelsea and United manager. That is not a good statistic for him.
And neither is the gap that has now emerged at the top of the Premier League table.
Chelsea 1-0 Manchester United: Alvaro Morata seals deserved win with world-class header to leave Jose Mourinho's Premier League title hopes in tatters
By Ian Ladyman
For Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte, this is beginning to feel less like a football season and more an exercise in problem management.
Manchester United, it is worth pointing out, are second in the Premier League. Chelsea, after this thoroughly deserved win, are up to fourth and just a point behind.
But the feeling at both of these clubs is not one of great optimism. Issues swirl around both like smoke from a bonfire, whatever the results on the field.
United have problems surrounding their style, especially away from Old Trafford. On Mourinho’s 15-month watch, they have scored a single goal away against one of the traditional top six clubs.
After two defeats in three Premier League games, United are now eight points behind Manchester City and maybe we are finally beginning to see evidence of the limitations that seemed apparent at the end of the summer transfer window. Better – quite good, in fact – but maybe not quite good enough yet.
On Sunday, Mourinho was left to suggest that things will improve once injured players return. This from a manager who claims never to use injuries as an excuse.
As for Chelsea, Conte continues to swim against a tide that seems destined, at some stage, to wash him out of the door at Stamford Bridge.
This was an emotional, tense victory for the Italian, one earned by a towering header from Alvaro Morata and celebrated with such intensity at full-time that Conte decided he didn’t have time to shake hands with Mourinho. That was a mistake.
Afterwards, though, talk turned almost immediately from victory to his omission of the Brazilian David Luiz.
With Conte dissatisfied with Luiz’s training performances, the Chelsea manager decided to proceed without him for this game and has suggested this stance will not change anytime soon.
Victory here enabled him to get away with that. Today it looks brave, an example of a manager exercising his authority. But what happens when Conte leaves one of his big names out and his team loses?
That is when the problems will begin.
At Chelsea, managers who take on players – especially those favoured by the owner Roman Abramovich – tend to run in to difficulties very soon. Mourinho knows this better than anyone.
So this was the context within which this game was played.
If matches that do not involve rampant City already feel as though they will only influence the order of the runners-up prizes, this one was always unlikely to provide conclusive truth of the direction in which Chelsea or United are travelling.
From United we certainly didn’t really see anything that surprised us.
Mourinho’s team were competitive and drilled and were never going to be easy to beat. But they were lacking in potency when they had the ball.
Centre forward Romelu Lukaku has now not scored since the end of September, for example, and United continue to look utterly incapable of dictating play against good sides.
Only after Chelsea scored ten minutes in to the second half did United really come alive, Mourinho throwing on the big Belgian Marouane Fellaini to try to blow the house down.
Prior to that Mourinho’s team had been in the game but never in charge of it. Chelsea were better from the get-go and the way they responded to defeat in Rome in the Champions League was very impressive.
The home teams two best players were Morata and Eden Hazard. No surprise there. Morata’s play with back to goal was terrific and he was prepared to run the channels too. It was hard not to compare that to Lukaku’s rather more laboured efforts at the other end.
United survived a Phil Jones volley in to his own net early on – Morata was adjudged to have fouled him – and escaped again when the unconvincing Tiemoue Bakayoko spooned a good chance wide from 12 yards.
United goalkeeper David de Gea then beat out a waspish Hazard shot with Cesc Fabregas heading the rebound in to the side netting. At this stage all that United had to show for their occasional journeys to the other end of the field was a header over from Marcus Rashford and a shot from 18 yards by Lukaku that Thibaut Courtois saved low to his right.
Chelsea never wore the look of certain winners but a blue victory always seemed the most likely outcome. Hazard may have done better than shoot at the goalkeeper early in the second half but when Cesar Azpilicueta dropped a cross on Morata’s head soon after the way he directed the ball back across De Gea and in to the top corner was sublime.
It was a goal fit to win a big match and eventually it did so. United did press hard latterly with Fellaini working Courtois and then appealing for a penalty as he grappled with Gary Cahill.
Conte certainly should have gone to Mourinho to shake hands afterwards, no matter the previous bad blood between them. But as the dust settled later, that was not even the main post-match issue. That, in itself, spoke volumes.
Inevitably this did bring United a bit of territory as the game entered the final third. Chelsea also seemed comfortable sitting back and trying to kill the game on the break.
Ander Herrera volleyed a half chance wide from a corner and then Chris Smalling was penalised for jumping all over Courtois at another set piece.
There was something of a haphazard threat about United as they tried to get back on terms but still the more controlled attacking football came from Chelsea, albeit on the counter.
Bakayoko was lacking in composure and cleverness when a mistake by Fellaini allowed him to run clear. It would have made sense to turn on to his left to open up the goal as red shirts retreated he seemed to want to go right and when he did he was only able to shoot wide of the near post.
Hazard then had a low shot saved by De Gea after standing up Smalling in the penalty area. This had been a good afternoon for the Belgian but he had not quite been at his sharpest in front of goal.
He was eventually replaced with four minutes of normal time remaining, the Brazilian Willian sent to help shore up the game. That came immediately after a half volley from the edge of the area by Rashford had passed the wrong side of the post by about a foot.
At such a late stage of the game, Chelsea did begin to find themselves under pressure at last. United did not try to hide the gameplan as they knocked it long to Fellaini and hoped for the best.
It almost worked, too, as the Belgian controlled a cross on his chest in the 90th minute and delivered a falling volley that Courtois dropped to save. As the ball was worked wide and crossed in to the box again, Fellaini fell under a challenge from Gary Cahill. Penalty? Probably not.
Still United would not lie down and die and after Morata spurned a 93rd minute breakaway chance Mourinho’s team earned one final chance. But Rashford couldn’t keep his free-kick down and United’s rather belated attempt at a comeback was over.
Chelsea: Courtois 7.5; Azpilicueta 8, Christensen 8.5, Cahill 7; Zappacosta 6 (Rudiger 66, 6), Bakayoko 7.5, Kante 8, Fabregas 8 (Drinkwater 79), Alonso 7; Hazard 7.5 (Willian 86); Morata 8.
Subs not used: Caballero, Ampadu, Pedro, Batshuayi.
Goals: Morata 55
Manager: Antonio Conte 7
Manchester United: De Gea 7; Jones 5.5 (Fellaini 63, 5.5), Smalling 5, Bailly 5; Valencia 5, Matic 5.5, Herrera 5.5, Young 5 (Lingard 79); Mkhitaryan 4.5 (Martial 63, 6), Lukaku 4.5, Rashford 6.
Subs not used: Romero, Blind, Darmian, McTominay.
Bookings: Jones, Herrera, Fellaini
Referee: Anthony Taylor 5
Star man: Andreas Christensen
Alvaro Morata seals win to reinvigorate Antonio Conte's Chelsea reign yet could end Manchester United's title chances
Chelsea 1 Manchester United 0: Striker's brilliant finish is enough to secure all three points and keep Blues in touch of Premier League leaders Manchester City
A supremely electric response from Chelsea, crowned by an even better goal from Alvaro Morata... but it may well lead to a low-key title race. Was the day that Antonio Conte properly recharged his regime the day that also killed Manchester United's - or anyone else’s - challenge for the Premier League trophy?
If that is to be the case, with Manchester City now eight points clear in first place having earlier in the day beaten Arsenal 3-1, it was actually more down to United’s previous performances than this 1-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge.
That game against Liverpool created a pressure about this one that necessitated a change in approach, but that reactive performance against Tottenham Hotspur - that did just about pay off - was then so difficult to deviate from. Jose Mourinho’s side struggled under that pressure. Conte’s, meanwhile, revelled and revved up under theirs from the 3-0 defeat by Roma and so much speculation about the Italian's future. This was a proper response, as seen in the manager's chest-beating celebration, that has also now led to a proper run. Mourinho has lost all three of his visits to Stamford Bridge as United manager, and now looks no closer to winning the league. The run of always claiming it in his second season looks set to be broken.
Chelsea by contrast are far from broken. This game showed their resolve, and was also much more of a show than United’s last two big-six matches.
There was in fact more action in the opening 20 minutes of this than there had been in both of their games against Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur. It was both as if Mourinho wanted to make a point, and had realised the desperate need for three points after City’s win. Marcus Rashford headed over from just yards out on eight minutes, and Romelu Lukaku brought a strong save from Thibaut Courtois shortly afterwards. The only problem with such proactivity - as Mourinho might well have always been fearful of - was that they were of course so much more open at the other end, and watching Chelsea create many more chances than they were.
A Phil Jones own goal was ruled out for what was adjudged a push from Morata, Eden Hazard had a close-range shot somehow saved by David De Gea before Cesc Fabregas missed the follow-up, and Tiemoue Bakayoko seemed to find himself on the end of so many sudden breaks and bursts through the midfield. He just didn’t quite have the poise to make the best of this, most noticeably skying one effort from the edge of the box.
This still represented a dilemma for Mourinho, in more than one sense. He needed to plug the hole in midfield, but that was directly connected to the crossroads he found himself in this match, and in the season.
He needed to attack, but wasn’t completely comfortable with how that left the defence. Tthe halfway house decision of getting one of the centre-halves rather than Ander Herrera to pick up Hazard directly resulted in the holes that appeared in the backline for Chelsea’s opening goal.
That should take nothing from Chelsea and his side. The high technical quality of that 54th-minute goal reflected the focus that the champions had shown all game.
So much for the disarray displayed in Rome. This was the opposite, with their bloody-mindedness on the day also the opposite of United. There was a fire about them, something that the return of the irrepressible N’Golo Kante is always going to help with. Even allowing for that, the word from their Cobham training base was that Conte had roared into the players, determined to ensure they were fully energised for this game. An example had been made of those like David Luiz, who was dropped after his performance in Rome, but it worked as the rest of them were so wondrously revved up. It could be seen in every 50-50, every break, and especially that goal.
The ball was sprayed out to Azpilicueta and, finding himself in the type of space that Mourinho would have been lived about, he predictably used that to pick out a perfect cross for Morata. The striker was in the same amount of space and duly used it too to offer a perfect header. De Gea couldn’t even begin to try and save it, as the ball flew into the corner of the net.
Chelsea and Conte had got themselves out of a corner.
Mourinho now really had to respond, really had to go for it.
He did so by taking off the player who is notionally United’s most creative, but never really gets to show it in a system where there is only ever one player ahead of him. Henrikh Mkhitaryan was taken off with Jones, and Anthony Martial and Marouane Fellaini were introduced.
It was easy to see Mourinho’s simplistic solution: knock it long for Fellaini to flick on to Martial, Rashford and Lukaku.
The only problem with that was that United couldn’t get on the ball enough to lump it forward, and they were now open enough that it was Chelsea who looked much likelier to score. They had so many dangerous breaks, with Hazard and Bakayoko thriving on the run, as Mourinho’s side toiled to change gear.
They are always going to find that more difficult without the injured Paul Pogba, but it still came back to the dilemma from earlier in the game. If your default in such big games is to go defensive, you are going to find it then even more difficult to successfully go proactive and attacking, no matter who you have in the team.
A lot of the criticism from the Liverpool game was because of the reluctance to go at a rival that was then low and confidence and weak, and because of the damage it might do to their title challenge when City were winning all their big games.
That title challenge might already be fatally damaged, as we saw a consequence of all that here, but there are to be no consequences for Conte. Just another conquest of Mourinho
Thursday, November 02, 2017
Roma 3 Chelsea 0: Antonio Conte's return to Italy spoiled by wasteful, woeful performance
This one will have hurt Antonio Conte more than the rest. The Italian is a notoriously bad loser, but this defeat, on his first return to his home country since stepping down as national team manager, will have badly dented his pride.
Conte has built his reputation as one of the most admired coaches in Europe on organisation and solid defending, but Chelsea displayed neither as goals from Stephan El Shaarawy and Diego Perotti secured Roma’s victory and prevented the Stamford Bridge side from clinching qualification from Group C.
And Conte was as much to blame as his players, who switched off at key moments, as Chelsea’s head coach got his big decisions wrong. He stuck with Antonio Rudiger, who suffered a nightmare return to his former club, watched Cesc Fabregas and Tiemoue Bakayoko get overrun and was punished for moving Pedro to right-back in the second half.
The fact Atletico Madrid were held by Qarabag, leaving Chelsea in a good position to qualify for the knockout stages, will be scant consolation for Conte, whose team simply fell apart in Rome.
Their performance was summed up by a comical scene when they were already trailing by three goals. Rudiger, David Luiz and Cesar Azpilicueta all stood in a line to try to stop the superb Edin Dzeko, allowing the striker to shift the ball over to Perotti.
The striker was off target on that particular occasion, but Chelsea looked anything but a Conte team with their schoolboy defending.
Ahead of the first match between these two teams at Stamford Bridge, Conte had said that it would give him “goosebumps” to go up against his former Italy national team trio of Alessandro Florenzi, Daniele De Rossi and El Shaarawy again.
The threesome were named on the substitutes’ bench in London, but all started in Rome and El Shaarawy took just 38 seconds to catch Chelsea and Conte cold.
Former Manchester City duo Aleksandar Kolarov and Dzeko, who both scored in the 3-3 draw at Chelsea, combined and the ball bounced off the striker’s head into the path of El Shaarawy, who smashed it first time past goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
It was the fastest Champions League goal in Roma’s history and the worst possible start for Chelsea, who were once again missing N’Golo Kante. The midfielder was deemed not fit enough to even take a place on the bench, following a late check on his hamstring.
Conte resisted the temptation to further bolster his midfield in Kante’s continued absence, as Danny Drinkwater started on the bench and Fabregas and Bakayoko were asked to marshal the centre of the park between them.
Fabregas was making his 100th Champions League appearance and fashioned a chance from which Chelsea almost levelled in just the fourth minute.
The Spaniard sent Eden Hazard through on goal but, under pressure, the Belgian allowed Roma goalkeeper Alisson Becker to get down to save his low shot.
Just as the 3-3 draw at Stamford Bridge had been, the game was open and frenetic with both sides looking vulnerable at the back.
An inviting high cross from Marcos Alonso was missed by everyone and Hazard had a shot on the turn well saved by Becker in the 24th minute.
Moments later, Alvaro Morata missed a glorious chance to break his five-game run without a goal by lifting the ball over the crossbar from close range after Pedro had blocked an attempted clearance.
Chelsea’s record signing had got himself into a muddle over whether or not he likes London ahead of this game and his finish from inside the six-yard box was just as uncertain.
Having seen his side fall behind so early, Conte spent the entire first half on the edge of his technical area, barking instructions to his players and signalling where each pass should be sent.
Conte was grateful that Courtois saved with his feet after a mistake from Luiz allowed Dzeko to play in El Shaarawy, who would have expected to have doubled his and Roma’s tally.
But El Shaarawy soon got over that missed chance as he did extend the home side’s advantage nine minutes before half-time and it was a goal ex-Roma defender Rudiger will not want to see again.
Conte had kept Rudiger in his back three, despite bringing back captain Gary Cahill, but the German was badly at fault in his old home.
Radja Nainggolan’s hopeful pass forwards should have been easily cut out, but Rudiger allowed the ball to bounce past him and El Shaarawy made no mistake to find the back of the net.
Chelsea desperately tried to gain a foothold in the game before the break, as Alonso curled a shot towards the Roma goal that Becker reached to tip wide. From the resulting corner, Bakayoko headed a wonderful chance wide and the visitors trudged in for what presumably would have been a half-time rocket from Conte.
Conte opted against any half-time changes, but quickly decided on a reshuffle after Dzeko had shot narrowly over after collecting a pass from El Shaarawy.
Willian replaced Cahill to give Chelsea more attacking options, but the decision to ask Pedro to move back and play as a makeshift right-back backfired spectacularly. Just seven minutes after the change, Fabregas gave the ball away and Perotti easily rounded Pedro before rifling a superb shot past Courtois and killing the game.
Perotti then fired over and Courtois had to pull off a stunning save to prevent substitute Kostas Manolas making Chelsea’s pain even worse.
This definitely was a night to forget, but it may take some getting over for Conte.
Roma feast on Chelsea’s frailties to give Antonio Conte further headaches
Roma 3 - 0 Chelsea
Dominic Fifield at the Stadio Olimpico
Antonio Conte’s homecoming was not supposed to descend into a humiliation.
He must have privately relished bringing his English champions, such a well-drilled outfit last season, back to Italy in the hope they would impose themselves in an arena where, on his last visit, he had been overseeing the Azzurri. Yet everything about this return to Rome was nightmarish, with Chelsea shredded at the back and profligate up front. Leadership of this section has been lost but, more significantly, this team feels damaged. They have rarely performed so chaotically.
The only consolation, and it will feel considerable in the cold light of day, was Atlético Madrid’s failure to overcome Qarabag’s 10 men in Spain, which means a win in Baku at the end of November will still secure progress into the knockout phase. Yet, rather than fret over the machinations of Group C, Conte’s priority must be recovering confidence for Manchester United’s visit to Stamford Bridge on Sunday. Defend as poorly as they did against Roma and, even if José Mourinho is thinking safety first, the visitors will sense plunder.
Plenty will point to the summer sale of Nemanja Matic to United as reason for Chelsea’s sudden vulnerability. More pressing at present, of course, is N’Golo Kanté’s absence. Conte and his medical staff had deemed it would be “stupid to risk” selecting the Frenchman at the Stadio Olimpico with his recovery from hamstring trouble still not properly complete. They missed his instincts in defensive midfield yet again here – this team have conceded 11 goals in the six matches he has missed, with only one clean sheet en route – with too many players across Chelsea’s midfield and forward line carrying wear or aching limbs to compensate. Even so, their rearguard should have offered more resistance than this.
They were overwhelmed, punctured after 38 seconds and tormented thereafter by Edin Dzeko’s brawn and clever movement, and the slippery pace of Diego Perotti and Stephan El Shaarawy on the counter. Conte had tried to rejig things, moving Gary Cahill to the right of his back three, then hauling off his captain before the hour-mark and even employing Pedro as a right wing-back, but fragility persisted. Perotti’s third was skimmed low from distance after Cesc Fàbregas surrendered the ball and Pedro had merely dangled a leg in an attempt to block the forward’s burst, yet it was an opportunity moments later that truly summed up this mess of a performance.
Another counterattack had Chelsea exposed with all three centre-halves drawn to Dzeko in possession as he approached the edge of the penalty area. The Bosnian merely checked back, with Antonio Rüdiger, David Luiz and César Azpilicueta in a neat line pointing at goal but all horribly off balance, and slid a diagonal pass across the box to the unmarked Perotti. The forward skied his shot over the bar, but the visitors had been split apart.
It would take Thibaut Courtois’ fine instinctive save from Kostas Manolas to avoid a four-goal drubbing. Regardless, Chelsea departed Italy chastened as the first English team beaten in this season’s competition, and with much to ponder before the weekend.
They were never comfortable, having been breached with the game in its infancy, the back-line perhaps still adjusting as Aleksandar Kolarov flung over a cross from the left. Dzeko, in between David Luiz and Rüdiger, improvised a lay-off via head and shoulder with the ball dropping in to space just outside the area, territory that might normally be patrolled by Kanté. While Marcos Alonso dawdled, El Shaarawy sprinted through on the wing-back’s inside and dispatched a first-time shot with the outside of his right foot that careered beyond Courtois. Roma have never registered a quicker goal in this competition.
Conte had relished coaxing the best from El Shaarawy with the national team, but here he was a rival running riot. The forward should have added a second just after the half-hour mark, bursting on to another Dzeko pass after David Luiz had surrendered the ball carelessly. Courtois blocked that attempt with his feet, but the respite was brief. Within a minute, Radja Nainggolan centred from the left and Rüdiger, unaware that El Shaarawy had a run on Azpilicueta’s inside at his back, chose not to intercept. The Italy forward could not believe his luck and simply guided the ball beyond a static Courtois.
What made Chelsea’s frustration all the more acute was that, as an attacking force, they had actually posed a threat in that opening period.
Alisson had denied Eden Hazard three times before the break, as well as turning away Alonso’s curled attempt. More wasteful for the visitors were the misses from Álvaro Morata, an anxious attempt in front of goal after Pedro had blocked a clearance, and Tiémoué Bakayoko planting a free header wide from Fàbregas’s corner, where the Brazilian goalkeeper would have stood no chance.
Yet that failure to register knocked the stuffing from their display, with everything that followed “a disappointment” for the crestfallen Conte. Time is limited in which to conjure a recovery. This season is already taking its toll.
Roma 3-0 Chelsea: Antonio Conte suffers haunting return to Italy as Stephan El Shaarawy double and Diego Perotti strike sinks Premier League champions
By Matt Barlow
Antonio Conte fiddled but Roma were on fire and Chelsea picked a fine time to spontaneously combust. This was not what Conte had in mind on his first competitive return to the Italian capital.
His team were a goal down in 38 seconds, two down by half-time and trailing by three early in the second-half.
The final score might easily have been more of an embarrassment had it not been for some fine saves by Thibaut Courtois.
Stephan El Shaarawy scored the first two, both brilliantly finished yet so poorly defended by Chelsea, who simply could not contain the threat of Edin Dzeko for the second time in this European campaign.
There are injuries in key areas of the squad eating away but it is hard to equate this display with the unit Conte had so well-drilled last season.
From the first minute to the last they were devoid of shape and composure at the back and poorly protected in midfield.
For good measure, they were wasteful up front but defensively they were brutally exposed by Roma who have plundered six in 180 minutes against Chelsea.
Diego Perotti grabbed the third before missing the clearest chance of the game, firing over when totally unmarked in front of goal.
Courtois stopped Roma running riot, including one fabulous reflex save to deny Kostas Manolas from close range. It was so good that Manolas shook the goalkeeper by the hand.
Chelsea remain well placed to qualify the last 16, mainly thanks to Atletico Madrid's inability to beat Qarabag, the unfancied minnows from Azerbaijan.
'The second-half was really bad,' said Conte. 'Roma showed more desire to first and win the game. I am disappointed for our second half. We all have to take the responsibility.
'When you concede three goals you need to be worried because it means something doesn't work. It's very difficult to tell what this is but for sure we have analyse the game and we need to work on the tactical aspect.'
But their careless habits at the back will infuriate Conte's attempt at another defensive shuffle, swapping Gary Cahill to the right and Antonio Rudiger to the left and moving Cesar Azpilicueta to wing-back, again, soon backfired.
They failed to cope with Roma's first attack of the game, a long diagonal pass from Aleksandar Kolarov to Dzeko.
Dzeko could not make the contact he wanted as he twisted in the air but still managed to nod the ball into the path of El Shaarawy who applied a searing strike with the outside of his right boot.
Francesco Totti, gazing down in imperial fashion from the VIP seats, would have approved. After their performance at Stamford Bridge, there was an air of confidence about Eusebio di Francesco's team.
Clearly, they thought Chelsea were there to be got at and here was further evidence. Without Azpilicueta in the back three and N'Golo Kante in midfield the Premier League champions are not nearly as solid as they can be.
Kante has been out for nearly a month with a hamstring injury sustained on international duty with France. He has been back in training since Friday and travelled with the squad to Rome but he was not even on the bench.
'It's not right to push,' said Conte. 'The player must have the right feeling.'
His continued absence meant Tiemoue Bakayoko was in tandem in the centre of midfield with Cesc Fabregas, who was making his 100th Champions League appearance.
At the back, they were vulnerable, often hustled into mistakes on the ball in dangerous areas when Roma chose to exert pressure but at least in the first-half Conte's team carried a threat when they went forward.
Eden Hazard, released by Fabregas, squandered a terrific chance to level soon after the opener but his finish was tame. Certainly, it did not match the electric burst of speed which took him away from the back four and his effort was easily saved by Alisson.
Twice in quick succession Hazard forced Alisson to make low saves and Alvaro Morata missed the target as he tried to clear the Brazilian 'keeper after Pedro charged down an attempted clearance from Kolarov.
Chelsea's gathering momentum stalled when Hazard was hurt by Alessandro Florenzi stepping on his heel from behind. The stoppage was soon followed by a lapse in concentration from David Luiz as he tried to control a high ball.
Courtois made the save, blocking from El Shaarawy and cleared the corner which followed but the Londoners were still out of sorts when Radja Nainggolan tested their defensive capabilities with another long pass from the left.
Rudiger seemed set to tidy it up but dithered and allowed it to bounce, while Azpilicueta was beaten in a sprint by El Shaarawy, who poked at a shot with his right foot to beat Courtois.
Still, Chelsea enjoyed good chances to reduce the deficit. Alisson saved from Marcos Alonso and Bakayoko headed wide from a corner.
Early in the second half and Conte replaced captain Cahill with Willian. Cue more shuffling around but no sooner had Pedro shifted into the role of wing-back than Perotti glided inside and sent a third skidding past Courtois from the edge of the penalty area.
Chelsea's attacking threat faded after the break. They were on the back-foot, striving to keep the score down and Conte's substitutions did nothing to change that.
Back in the Italian capital, he came, he saw, he conceded three just as Luiz Felipe Scolari did when Chelsea were beaten here 3-1 nine years ago. And he flew home with some serious work to do before Manchester United on Sunday.
Roma (4-3-3): Alisson 6.5; Florenzi 5.5 (Manolas 76), Fazio 6, Juan Jesus 6, Kolarov 6.5; Nainggolan 6.5, De Rossi 7, Strootman 6; El Shaarawy 8 (Gerson 75), Dzeko 7.5, Perotti 7 (Pellegrini 87)
Subs not used: Skorupski, Moreno, Under, Gonalons
Goalscorers: El Shaarawy 1, 36, Perotti 63
Manager: Eusebio di Francesco 7
Chelsea (3-4-3): Courtois 7; Cahill 5 (Willian 56, 5), Luiz 5, Rudiger 5; Azpilicueta 5, Fabregas 5.5 (Drinkwater 71, 5), Bakayoko 5, Alonso 5; Pedro 6, Morata 5 (Batshuayi 75), Hazard 6.5
Subs not used: Caballero, Kenedy, Zappacosta, Christensen
Manager: Antonio Conte 6
Referee: Jonas Eriksson 6
Chelsea horror show as rampant Roma outclass Antonio Conte's visitors in Champions League clash
Roma 3 Chelsea 0: The Blues were put to the sword by their hosts who were far sharper and composed in possession
Many unhappy returns. On his first ever match back in Italy as a visiting manager, Antonio Conte suffered his joint-worst defeat as Chelsea manager, as they were smashed 3-0 by a rampant Roma in a dismal performance that will give him an awful lot to ponder.
It was also a first defeat for an English side in Europe this season, but could really have been a whole lot worse, especially as they also got a huge let-off due to events in Spain. Atletico Madrid could only draw 1-1 at home against 10-man Qarabag, meaning Chelsea will actually qualify with a win in Baku in the next match. They will have to considerably improve on this shambles, though, especially with Manchester United to come on Sunday.
Even if the night was not that bad due to Atletico's result, this match itself was awful for Chelsea from start to finish.
The supreme Stephan El Shaarawy scored the opening goal after just 39 seconds, and if that spectacular strike was admittedly the best moment of the game, it just got worse and worse for Chelsea. Antonio Rudiger was also back at his former home, but seemed as if on unfamiliar ground, as he didn’t know where he was in stepping up on 37 minutes to let El Shaarawy in for the second. He was far from the only player culpable, and that might not have even been the worst error for the game, as calamity ran right through the team. They just looked tired, and thereby suffered a torrid evening.
Alvaro Morata was ineffective up front, Eden Hazard was inefficient and the midfield of Tiemoue Bakayoko and Cesc Fabregas was again totally overrun. How they miss N’Golo Kante, although that still shouldn’t explain how Fabregas so sloppily missed a tackle for when Diego Perotti scored a brilliant third on 63 minutes.
The disarray that they had descended into was perhaps best displayed moments after that, though, when three Chelsea players somehow trailed man-of-the-match Edin Dzeko as he burst through on goal to leave Perotti totally unmarked.
He somehow missed, and that was just one reason that Conte somehow wasn’t subjected to his worst ever defeat. It might well have been Chelsea’s worst ever performance under him. It really was that poor.
The oddity was that the game had started as if it might match the helter-skelter mayhem of the 3-3 two weeks as Pedro went through on goal almost immediately, but it was really only Roma that were able to keep up that pace. They after all got the same three goals, as Chelsea got nothing, and really did nothing.
They certainly couldn’t match Roma once El Shaarawy had properly set the pace, with that blistering opening goal straight after Pedro’s stumble.
Aleksandar Kolarov played with a quick pass from the left for his former Manchester City teammate Edin Dzeko, he headed back to the area just in front of the centre of the 18-yard box and El Shaaraway ran onto it to fire a first-time shot into the top corner.
The one curiosity to the game was that Conte had seemed to have spotted a weakness in Roma, as Chelsea repeatedly looked like they might get in behind that backline with calculated balls over the top, but the concern was that they couldn’t act on this or execute anything properly.
There was just a raggedness to their play and general execution, like when Cesar Azpilicueta let the ball roll under his foot for a throw when in a promising position, or when Hazard kept hitting the ball straight at Allison in the Roma goal after putting himself into good shooting positions.
It was like that all over the pitch, and wasn’t long until it told at the other end of the pitch.
On 37 minutes, former Chelsea target Radja Nainggolan played a hopeful ball into the centre of the goal. It should have been easy for Rudiger to deal with it, but he inexplicably let the ball go, allowing El Shaarawy to so slickly slip the ball past Courtois with another one-touch finish - if of course a deftly different one.
While it was El Shaaraway who had fired the ball into the net, it was Dzeko who was firing at a level above anyone else on the pitch. He was everywhere, both creating chances for others and driving efforts at goal himself, looking as good as he’s ever been. There was one moment in the second half where he delightfully touched a dropping ball back up into air, before playing a volleyed pass in a fine flowing movement.
The force of his play was all the more striking because there was such a contrast at the other end. Morata just didn’t look fully fit, and his only efforts on goal were feeble.
It was no surprise when he was eventually taken off as Conte continued to try and arrest the situation with drastic moves like bringing on Willian for Gary Cahill, but still less surprise when Roma added to their lead.
They were just that much sharper. Perotti just looked to be performing at a different level to Fabregas as he so easily skipped by him on 63 minutes, and drove the ball into the bottom corner from distance.
It was shortly after that the Chelsea defence descended into something out of a black-and-white comedy, with that panicked chase for Dzeko, as he and Roma continued to add vivid technicolour to their game. Only Thibaut Courtois could be proud of what he did, as he pulled off a brilliant save from substitute Kostas Manolas to prevent this being a proper rout on the scoreboard. It was already a rout in terms of performance, though.
It is just such a let-off that it still somehow doesn’t look that bad on the actual group table.
Roma 3 - Chelsea 0: El Shaarawy double inspires Serie A giants to top of Group C
ANTONIO CONTE suffered a nightmare on his return to Italy – but he only has himself to blame for Chelsea’s calamitous defending.
By TONY PASKIN
The Blues manager has made so many changes to his defence this season he is becoming a new Tinkerman – and it came back to haunt him.
Recalling Gary Cahill and playing him on the right of a back three threw Chelsea’s usually secure unit right out of kilter and Roma punished them savagely.
Stephan El Shaarawy scored the first after just 38 seconds, the first time the Blues have conceded in the opening minute of a game in four years.
El Shaarawy then hit a second before Diego Perotti struck the third in the 63rd minute.
There were mistakes at the back for every goal, and in truth it could have been worse.
Roma gave Chelsea a real scare at Stamford Bridge two weeks ago and the Italians were quickly at it again here.
In a blistering start it was actually the visitors who almost struck first, Pedro wasting a clear-cut opportunity after being played in by Tiemoue Bakayoko.
But seconds later, and with a full minute yet to be played, Roma broke and snatched the lead.
At the Bridge it was former Manchester City pair Edin Dzeko and Aleksandar Kolarov who did all the damage and they were up to their old tricks again.
Kolarov bombed down the left and swung in a cross which Dzeko, under no pressure whatsoever from former Roma defender Antonio Rudiger, flicked it back into the danger zone.
From then it was all about El Shaarawy’s finish, a real screamer from 20 yards which absolutely flew past poor Thibaut Courtois.
More evidence perhaps that Chelsea were missing N’Golo Kante, who didn’t even make the squad despite training in the build-up.
Conte revealed before kick-off he felt it would be “stupid to risk” Kante’s hamstring injury with Sunday’s visit of Manchester United looming - althought the midfielder is now also likely to miss that game.
In-form Eden Hazard almost hit back immediately after being played in by Cesc Fabregas, but his shot was weak and easily saved by Roma goalkeeper Alisson Becker.
Hazard wrigged clear again to see another shot saved before Alvaro Morata fluffed his lines with only the keeper to beat.
Kolarov’s attempted clearance rebounded right to him in front of goal off Pedro but the Spain star’s rushed shot sailed high over the crossbar.
Morata has not been the same since suffering a hamstring injury against Manchester City and missed two good chances in Chelsea’s 1-0 win at Bournemouth on Saturday too.
At the other end Courtois saved from El Shaarawy, but he couldn’t stop the Roma striker making it 2-0 moments later with Rudiger again asleep.
That left Chelsea doubly upset as Hazard had been the victim of a cynical, unpunished foul by Alessandro Florenzi, who stamped down the back of his Achilles, just beforehand.
After 11 minutes of the second half Conte had seen enough and made an attacking change, bringing off Cahill and throwing on Willian.
But Morata, who had struggled all night, fired wide from another good position. He had never scored before against Roma despite spending two years in Italy with Juventus.
As out of colour as he looked though, it was nothing to compared to that Chelsea defence, which conceded a third in the 63rd minute, and this time it was Perotti’s turn
He turned inside Fabregas and skinned him for pace before firing in another belter which beat Courtois at his near post to put Roma in complete control.
They have scored some truly stunning goals in their two games against Chelsea, but how often do you ever see a Blues team torn apart so easily by the same opposition?
It should have been four when Perotti blazed over after Dzeko attracted all three Chelsea defenders to him and then played his team-mate in.
Roma (4-3-3): Becker; Florenzi, Fazio, Jesus, Kolarov; Nainggolan, De Rossi, Strootman; El Shaarawy, Dzeko, Perotti.
Chelsea (3-4-3): Courtois; Rudiger, Luiz, Cahill; Azpilicueta, Fabregas, Bakayoko, Alonso; Pedro, Morata, Hazard.
Referee: J Eriksson (Sweden).
Sunday, October 29, 2017
Bournemouth 0 Chelsea 1: Eden Hazard the difference in narrow yet comfortable win
Amid all the inconsistencies and defensive fragilities, all the bluster and “bulls---” that has so infuriated Antonio Conte, here was an evening of welcome solidity for Chelsea.
A well-earned victory, a timely clean sheet and three points that keep them within touching distance - just about - of league leaders Manchester City will ensure this is regarded by the champions as a job well done.
Eden Hazard was the match-winner, scoring with a second-half strike after a series of Bournemouth errors, but more pleasing for Conte will be his side’s first clean sheet for more than a month.
“For sure, we played a good game,” the Chelsea manager said. “For a big part of the game we played very well, with maturity and good possession, and tried to create and find the right ball between the lines. We created many chances to score.”
A minor concern will be that only one of those chances was taken, but Conte will not be having many sleepless nights if his defence remains as resolute as this.
Bournemouth were limited to a handful of half-chances and nothing more, with manager Eddie Howe admitting afterwards that his side were “too passive”. Their struggles continue, and they continue to linger in a perilous 19th place in the league table after 10 games.
That will not change if they continue to defend like they did for Hazard’s goal, which played out in three painful acts for the home side.
First, defender Simon Francis fluffed his clearance, allowing Hazard in. Second, Francis slipped when trying to make amends. And then, in a third and sorry final instalment, goalkeeper Asmir Begovic was far too easily beaten by Hazard’s near-post shot. To make matters worse, it had all started with a Bournemouth goal-kick.
“It was not just a goalkeeping error,” said Howe. “It was a really poor goal. They had a lot of the ball, we plugged gaps and threw our bodies in the way, but to then concede from our goal-kick, with a couple of errors thrown in, was hugely disappointing.”
Chelsea should have taken the lead long before then. Alvaro Morata twice went close, while both Cesc Fabregas and the impressive Tiemoue Bakayoko wasted further opportunities before the break.
“We could have been more clinical in the first half,” Conte said. “In this type of game, you must be able to kill the game. If you keep the result in the balance, you risk drawing in the end.
“The only negative aspect is when you create so many chances to score, you have to take them. Tonight, that was the only negative aspect. For the rest, I am very happy.”
For all Chelsea’s profligacy, there remained little prospect of a Bournemouth equaliser. Jordon Ibe went closest with a long-range strike, while defender Steve Cook could arguably have done better with a stoppage-time effort, but that was all the home side were able to muster.
Eden Hazard’s solitary strike secures victory for Chelsea over Bournemouth
AFC Bournemouth 0 - 1 Chelsea
Dominic Fifield at the Vitality Stadium
Antonio Conte fidgeted his way anxiously through the latter stages here, the Italian a picture of agitation on the touchline as Bournemouth mustered everything they had to discomfort the champions. Yet, by the end, the sense lingered that Chelsea’s domestic campaign is returning to an even keel. Their margin for error has gone, of course, and the summit remains distant, but successive league wins have at least lanced the tension.
This finished feeling like a hard-fought victory though, in truth, the visitors should really have eased themselves clear during a one-sided opening period. Given their dominance at that stage, it seemed rather ludicrous that Eden Hazard’s shot, belted inside Asmir Begovic’s near-post six minutes into the second half, was ultimately all they had to show for some of their more vibrant attacking play of the campaign to date. The head coach acknowledged as much in the aftermath, urging his players to be more clinical in killing off games of this nature.
Yet, in the context of a dip in performance levels either side of the last international window and with references still coming to the untimely injuries which have blunted his team, Conte finished satisfied. He has spent the last week on a restoration exercise. His squad needed to be reminded of their qualities, with confidence rebuilt and both conviction and momentum returned to their campaign.
“This was a deserved win, a good win for our confidence and a good win before another tough game against Roma in the Champions League,” said the Italian. “Honestly, last season we won 3-1 here but today we played better. We controlled the game. Last season we conceded more chances and, in one part of the game, we were lucky. So I saw a lot of positives tonight.”
Principal among them was Hazard’s display. The Belgian tends to thrive on visits to this arena, revelling in the space afforded him by Eddie Howe’s side, with this no exception. He would prove to be the match-winner, ramming that shot beyond Begovic, though the Bosnian, a team-mate and title winner last term, betrayed his own disappointment at his attempt to block with the subsequent slump of his shoulders.
Howe pointed out that others were just as culpable with the winner having stemmed from a Bournemouth goal-kick but, in truth, Hazard was always likely to sear his name on this occasion. He was the outstanding performer, a constant menace with the ball glued to his instep, and a provider of opportunities for Álvaro Morata and David Luiz which should have yielded further rewards.
Chelsea will travel to Italy on Monday relieved to have their Belgian back to his best, for all that Roma will be more awkward opponents in midweek. They will certainly not afford Hazard as much time on the ball. Indeed, Howe bemoaned how “passive” his team had been through that one-sided opening period, when Morata had a goal wrongly ruled out for offside, and cited the fact the contest remained goalless at the break as a sole positive. Yet, even with Jermain Defoe withdrawn and their system rejigged thereafter, it was only at the death that they hinted at conjuring an equaliser. And even then, Steve Cook’s shot, curled straight at a grateful Thibaut Courtois, was their most presentable opening for all that César Azpilicueta and David Luiz were forced to fling themselves into blocks to deny Benik Afobe and Callum Wilson.
Opponents have been exploiting the absence of N’Golo Kanté over recent weeks, with Chelsea having shipped eight goals in the four games while the Frenchman has been hamstrung, to suggest this was a missed opportunity. Conte hopes to have the midfielder restored at the Olympic Stadium but will be conscious that Manchester United await next Sunday. “If he’s ready, he plays,” said the head coach. “But everyone knows the importance of the player. I want to be sure he is ready.”
Yet Bournemouth never really threatened to inflict wounds in the way Crystal Palace, Roma, Watford and even Everton had. Some of the zest has drained from their approach this term, with the onus now on their manager to instigate a revival. “We have to work out why we’ve gone from a free-scoring team to a side who struggle to create clear-cut chances,” said Howe. “I have to work it out. I have to find the right formula.”
He has been hampered by injuries, too, and had lost Junior Stanislas and Afobe before the end. November’s games look kinder on paper but this division is notoriously treacherous, as Chelsea have been reminded of late. The champions know only a run as eye-catching as last term’s 13-game winning streak will thrust them back into the title race. Successive victories are a start.
Bournemouth 0-1 Chelsea: Eden Hazard fires Antonio Conte's side to victory as Eddie Howe's men remain in the bottom three of the Premier League
By Adam Crafton for The Mail on Sunday
When the goal finally came, it was alarming in its simplicity. Alvaro Morata held the ball up superbly, as he did all evening long, ghosted away from a couple of defenders and pitched a pass into the left channel. Eden Hazard gave chase, Simon Francis tumbled over in hot pursuit and the Belgian fired the ball through Asmir Begovic and into the goal.
For Chelsea manager Antonio Conte a surge of relief. This had been a reasonable enough away performance but for 51 minutes a sense of frustration grew as Chelsea spurned a catalogue of openings. Conte's response was to throw his arms out in celebration but his thoughts immediately turned. He pointed his index fingers towards his head and told his players to concentrate.
If Chelsea retain the merest aspiration of defending their Premier League crown, this was a game they dare not lose. Indeed, they could barely afford a draw.
The team coach arrived on the south coast with the players aware that at the start of play they were sitting 12 points behind leaders Manchester City. Jose Mourinho's Manchester United were seven ahead, with the former Chelsea manager returning to Stamford Bridge next Sunday.
To their credit, Chelsea did start this game with purpose. Their passing was crisp and their build-up play well thought-out, if a little ponderous at times. Yet Chelsea's territorial dominance was such that Conte's side could well have been home and dry by the half-time whistle.
Instead, an exasperating period saw them denied first by their own carelessness, then by the assistant referee's errant judgement and finally by the courage of the Bournemouth goalkeeper Begovic.
Morata was the first culprit. A tragicomic 30 seconds saw Begovic skew a clearance straight into Hazard's path. The Belgian carried the ball forward and teed up Morata perfectly but as he opened up his body, he sidefooted it wide of the post.
At times this season, Conte has appeared to be spoiling for a fight at every turn. This week, the print media felt his wrath but unease towards the club hierarchy and his own players has pockmarked the Italian's tenure since the end of last season.
The officials may be next on his hit-list after Morata was then denied by Eddie Smart's offside flag.
A well-worked set-piece saw Hazard pull the ball back for David Luiz, whose effort was deflected into Cesar Azpilicueta. Begovic saved and Morata turned the ball into the net. Yet up went Smart's yellow flag to curtail the champions' celebrations. Replays did not reflect well on the official's decision, with Azpilicueta shown to be level.
Bournemouth, languishing in the relegation zone and with pressing needs for points of their own, threatened rarely. A victory at Stoke aided matters last week but the club have not won consecutive Premier League matches since April. Benik Afobe wasted one positive opening and Azpilicueta defended impressively when Francis flashed a ball across the Chelsea goal.
The visitors kept coming. As the first half ended, they could not have set up camp more in the Bournemouth half if they had pitched a row of tents across the 18-yard line. A breakthrough appeared inevitable.
Morata's qualities soon came to the fore, as he tip-toed by two opponents following some lovely interplay with Hazard. The Spaniard shot powerfully towards goal but Begovic was able to spread himself and divert the ball over. Conte screwed up his face and ran his hands over his visage before turning back to the dugout in frustration.
Little wonder that he smiled so broadly when the breakthrough finally came.
His team still had the occasional fright, most notably when Luiz and Cesc Fabregas ran into each other and Jermain Defoe's replacement Jordon Ibe struck the ball over the top.
Captain Azpilicueta appeared to meet every cross. When Thibaut Courtois was finally called upon, he held firm when Steve Cook powered a strike on goal.
Indeed, Chelsea should have closed the game off themselves when Fabregas broke from midfield and curled over the top from the angle.
For Conte, however, the victory was all that really mattered.
Bournemouth (3-4-2-1): Begovic 6; S Cook 6.5, Ake 7, Francis 5; Smith 6, L Cook 5.5, Surman 5.5, Daniels 6; Stanislas 6 (Pugh 63, 5.5); Afobe 5.5 (Wilson 74, 6) , Defoe 5 (Ibe 45, 6)
Subs not used: Boruc, Gosling, Arter, Mousset
Booked: Smith, Francis
Manager: Eddie Howe 5.5
Chelsea (3-4-2-1): Courtois 6; Azpilicueta 6, Luiz 6, Rudiger 6.5; Zappacosta 6, Fabregas 7, Bakayoko 7, Alonso 6.5; Pedro 6 (Drinkwater 79), Hazard 7.5 (Willian 85) Morata 7 (Batshuayi 79)
Subs not used: Caballero, Cahill, Christensen, Ampadu
Goalscorers: Hazard 51
Manager: Antonio Conte 7
Referee: Craig Pawson 6
Antonio Conte's frustrating week ends in relief as Eden Hazard secures hard-fought victory over Bournemouth
Bournemouth 0 Chelsea 1: Belgian forward takes full advantage of Asmir Begovic error to secure narrow victory as Blues overtake Arsenal and return to top four
Twenty-four hours after an angry outburst had revealed the depth of his frustration at the growing speculation surrounding his future, Antonio Conte was provided with a welcome distraction when Eden Hazard’s second-half goal ensured his Chelsea side avoided slipping further behind in the title race.
Conte was angered by reports Carlo Ancelotti is being lined up as his successor and of unrest within his squad. The Italian’s mood would have darkened further if his side had failed to respond to Manchester City’s earlier win at West Bromwich Albion that meant the defending champions started the game 12 points adrift of Pep Guardiola’s side in the Premier League table.
As it was, they were made to work hard for a win that was finally secured by Hazard’s
51st-minute finish. This was not a performance to remember but it was sufficient to see off a Bournemouth side that remain in the bottom three.
Conte made just one change to the side that started last weekend’s victory over Watford, a win that might have been expected to have eased the scrutiny on the Chelsea head coach, with Gary Cahill dropping to the bench ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League trip to face AS Roma.
The Italian’s side had initially laboured against Marco Silva’s side seven days previously before the introduction of Michy Batshuayi from the bench helped inspire a recovery that overturned a 2-1 deficit.
The opening moments at the Vitality Stadium suggested the defending champions would face similarly obstinate opponents with Bournemouth, buoyed by back to back victories last week, approached the game with renewed confidence.
Howe’s side have faced a testing start to the campaign and had mustered just one Premier League victory before last week’s impressive win at Stoke City. That was followed by midweek defeat of Middlesbrough that set up a Carabao Cup quarter-final with Conte’s side, prompting Howe to talk of growing sense of momentum at the club.
That momentum would have been maintained had Benik Afobe made more of a 17th-minute opportunity when the striker found himself in space on the edge of the penalty area. The striker could have shot but instead played an overhit pass towards the advancing Charlie Daniels who did well to pull the ball back for Afobe, whose shot was deflected wide.
At that point, Chelsea’s two best openings had come after long balls behind the home defence had released first Pedro and then Davide Zappacosta but Nathan Ake, the former Chelsea defender, did well to spot the danger on both occasions.
Conte’s side were growing in authority and it appeared inevitable they would force the lead during a period of sustained pressure. Initially they were helped on their way by a 24th-minute mis-kicked clearance by Asmir Begovic, the keeper who left Chelsea for Bournemouth last summer.
The ball landed at the feet of Hazard, 25 yards from goal, and Begovic was relieved to see Alvaro Morata place his finish wide of the near post after the Spain international had been sent clear by his team-mate.
Two minutes later, Tiemoue Bakayoko rose above the home defence to meet Cesc Fabregas’s corner but could only direct his header at Begovic. And moments after that chance, Morata thought he had made up for his earlier miss after another Fabregas corner.
A half-clearance fell to David Luiz on the edge of the box whose shot was helped on by Cesar Azpilicueta and parried by Begovic into the path of Morata. The striker placed the ball into the net but the effort was ruled out because Azpilicueta had drifted narrowly offside.
Chelsea’s frustration was growing while Morata in particular was entitled to feel this would not be his day. That changed six minutes after the break when the forward assumed the role of provider to set up Hazard’s goal.
Morata did well to retain possession inside the centre circle, turning to make space before clipping a ball out towards Hazard on the left hand flank. Bournemouth skipper Simon Francis should have cut out the pass, but once clear, Hazard raced into the home area and took advantage of Begovic’s poor positioning to beat the keeper at his near post from a tight angle.
Bournemouth responded with Ibe’s goal-bound shot deflected over the bar by Rudiger but Chelsea repelled the home side’s late pressure to hold on for the win, much to Conte’s relief.
Bournemouth (5-3-2): Begovic 5; A Smith 6, Francis 5, S Cook 7, Ake 8, Daniels 7; L Cook 6, Stanislas 7 (Pugh 62,6) , Surman 6; Defoe 6 (Ibe 46), Afobe 6 (Wilson 73,6).
Subs not used: Boruc, Gosling, Pugh, Arter, Mousset.
Chelsea (3-4-3): Courtois 6; Azpilicueta 7, Luiz 6, Rudiger 8; Zappacosta 6, Fabregas 7, Bakayoko 6, Alonso 6; Pedro 7 (Drinkwater 78), Morata 6 (Batshuayi 73), Hazard 9 (Willian 85,6).
Subs not used: Caballero, Cahill, Christensen, Ampadu.
Referee: C Pawson