West Brom-Chelsea Preview
LONDON (SE) - Chelsea end a fractious week with the visit of West Bromwich Albion to Stamford Bridge and a chance to claim third place in the Premier League, at least until Sunday when Arsenal take on Tottenham Hotspur.
What should have amounted to nothing more than a routine dismissal of Middlesbrough in the FA Cup on Wednesday night turned into uncensored airing of the club's dirty laundry when 'interim manager' Rafael Benitez defiantly rounded on the supporters who have hounded him since he took charge in November.
"A group of fans, they are not doing any favours for the team when they are singing and wasting time preparing banners," Benitez said post-match. "It's because someone made a mistake. The put my title 'interim manager', and I will leave at the end of the season, so they don't need to waste time with me.
"They have to concentrate on supporting the team, that's what they have to do. In the end, they are not doing any favours to the club, to the rest of the fans and to the players. Every game they continue singing and they continue preparing banners, they are wasting time. What they have to do is support the team."
If the Blues were hoping for a soft touch to end the week then the sight of West Brom (12-4-11) rolling up at the Bridge probably won't offer much solace. Their 2-1 win at The Hawthorns in mid-November, meant the Baggies had secured consecutive league victories against Chelsea (14-7-6) for the first time since the 1978-79 season.
Known to enjoy facts, Benitez might want to take note that his predecessor, Roberto Di Matteo was dismissed after that match. The Midlands side have actually accounted for the last two Chelsea managers as Andre Villas-Boas, Di Matteo's predecessor, was shown the door following a 1-0 loss at The Hawthorns last March.
That said, the Baggies have lost eight of their last nine league games at Stamford Bridge, drawing the other 1-1 in December 1988. Their last league triumph at the Bridge came in September 1978 and their last win of any kind there was a 1-0 League Cup win in 1984.
After winning their last two league games to hit 40 points, generally considered as the benchmark for avoiding relegation, joint-assistant head coach Keith Downing says West Brom will be looking to reassess their immediate league targets.
"We're going into new territory and it's the first time we can feel that way," Downing told the club website. "It will be a first for a lot of us as players and coaches, as we've generally had to look over our shoulders a lot of the time.
"We'll have to approach it in a different way in the weeks ahead and it's been a big two games to win back-to-back. We're always trying to win as many back-to-back games as possible and I think it's a real plus in the Premier League. If you can get six points in a week it's a massive achievement.
West Brom will be without their top scorer in the league, Romelu Lukaku, due to the terms of his loan agreement with parent club Chelsea. Shane Long is doubtful for the match and Goran Popov is serving the last game of a three-match ban which means manager Steve Clarke will add youngsters Romaine Sawyers and Isaiah Brown to the squad.
Lukaku's absence might also see a first start for Peter Odemwingie since his failed attempt to move away from West Brom on transfer deadline day.
Odemwingie's strike five minutes into the second half decided the contest when the sides last met after Long had opened the scoring. Eden Hazard scored the Chelsea goal.