Chelsea 1 - West Bromwich Albion 0
Boring as it may sound, if Pulis ever writes his biography I hope it will focus more on his defensive strategies than his battles with club owners. The stifling (well almost) of a rampant Chelsea on a nine game winning streak was a master class in defensive discipline and application. If not for a rare lapse from Gmac we would have grabbed a well deserved point. He had a brief opportunity to hoof the ball into touch, but dallied enough for the lethal Costa to steal the ball and curl a superb winner from a tightish angle. To be fair to Gmac he was left alone one on one with Costa and it's hard to criticise arguably our best player this season.
So we came away with nothing, but the way the team pulled together to apply Pulis's game plan should leave no doubt about how much the players believe in him. Despite his critics (and I have been one on occasion) he certainly knows how to neutralize tough teams.
But I can't let him get away Scot free - if he had brought on fresh legs a little earlier would we have held out for a point? We will never know of course. No let downs against Swansea please!
A Bridge Too Far
It's not yet clear if history will go on to claim this one to have been a "partial success", although given that we so nearly pulled it off, who knows how it'll be viewed now, let alone in the future.
It was always going to be an interesting game, not least in seeing how Pulis would alter the usual back-four that typically only has to cope with the one striker deployed by most opposition's 4231s, to cope with Conte's 343. As it was, he simply dropped in two more defenders to the usual 451 when defending, so as to line up in as a 631 meaning that, whilst we were unchanged for a fifth game, Brunt and Phillips were pretty much deployed as opposite-footed full-backs, and not as opposite-footed wide-midfielders, so as to prevent the wider of our four centre-backs needing to venture far enough outside the edges of the penalty box.
I suppose the irony, and some should be taken from the game, would be that, rather than being undone by some slick, short, Chelsea passing breaking through our massed ranks, we were undone by a long ball, that somehow saw the right inside centre-back, McAuley, isolated against Costa out near the left touchline - a long ball that was very much in the manner of our long balls into Rondon, who we clearly trying to isolate against David Luiz, and against whom the tireless lone striker almost had complete success on a couple of occasions - however, whereas when Rondon managed to pick Luiz's pocket and head towards goal, he was unable to capitalise, Costa produced a strike that was worthy of winning any game, let alone one had had most the life sucked out of it.
The ultimate irony came when Chelsea brought on Ivanovic for Hazard in what was clearly designed to echo their visitor's "initial hold what we have" approach, although they might even have hit us on the break and the game ended with us defending a corner.
Phillips, Morrison and Brunt were all replaced, as usual, by HRK, Chadli and McClean - although possibly not in that order ? - once our initial plan changed to one in which we needed to score, but, if anything we created less when Chelsea sat back than when we had been happy sitting back and, on the times when had someone ahead of the ball, breaking out, which had led to a few off-target efforts in the first half.
There can't be many, if any, other sides in the division that we'll need to deploy such tactics against, so not much point in trying to derive much more from this one.
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