West Bromwich Albion 0 - Chelsea 1
I'm just going to call it as I saw it - I think the starting lineup had some wrong choices in it, the tactics were too negative and although the subs who came on did well, the choice of subs and the players withdrawn were bad too. When seeing the starting lineup I thought it would be unlikely we'd be able to get up the pitch let alone score a goal because of the lack of attacking quality or legs. I thought we'd be under a lot of pressure.
I think it played out that way. I would never question the effort of a team under Pulis and I think individually players had a right go and there were some good performances, but tactically and in terms of quality on the ball we were sadly lacking, with better options on the bench.
I was pretty incredulous at Pulis's after-match comments because he said the same.
Was this a match to play Field in the role he was playing? If you are being objectively honest - have Fletcher or Livermore done anything in the last 5 games to merit their inclusion? Does he really think that a team that has failed to score in 5 of the last 6 games needs fewer creative players in it? I'm delighted Field as getting minutes but from what I've seen he'd be better than Fletcher or Livermore in a deeper role. As would Yacob, Morrison or Brunt. In dropping Fletcher and/or Livermore in one of the deeper roles, we could then have played Chaldi or Morrison in the advanced role behind Rondon in an attempt to give Rondon any kind of support whatsoever, and to have 1 or 2 players who are able to keep the ball when we get it and move it through the pitch, or to score goals themselves.
On to the substitutions...
I understand Field might have been injured - I hope he was because otherwise it was a wasted sub. He was our best centre midfielder on the night - keeping it well but, more importantly for the future, positionally and in terms of reading the he was miles ahead of the 10 million action-man Livermore. Even so and despite how well Yacob played when he came on (I'd have started him), surely the game was crying out for Morrison or Chadli at this point?
Next, McClean made way despite being probably our best attacking player on the night. Sure he was on a yellow but he was doing a really good job. Consider by this point we had Yacob, Livermore and Fletcher in the centre. Was this really necessary?
Finally, when McAuley went off - ironically at a point when Rondon was starting to win his war of attrition with the Chelsea centre backs and creating us opportunities to get up the pitch - we could have moved Brunt to left back and got Morrison or Leko on to give us 10% more in attacking areas whilst rewarding an Albion veteran with minutes or giving an opportunity to an exciting talent whose development we have stunted this year. Instead Wilson, who will be gone in the summer, was chosen and ultimately it was from his defensive side we conceded the late winner.
I'm not unrealistic - I know we were playing the champions-elect with their massive resources etc. But at home, with safety achieved games ago and against a side who have lost games this year and are far from invincible I think it's fair to expect a bit more than trying everything to get a 0-0.
Despite all of the above - the players had a right go and for most of the game defended brilliantly. We limited Chelsea to few clear-cut chances and it's just so disappointing for the goal I think everyone apart from Brunt and Foster switched off, thinking the ball would spin out of play. They deserved to be applauded off and having done so well this season I don't think they deserve any 'on the beach' accusations. I would look at the management, tactics and team selections as to why our results after 40 points have been so poor and with so few goals.
Pulis's bus runs out of parking time before picking the point.
In a game played between the only two sides which, albeit for different reasons with three games each to go, could no longer move up the table, Albion failed to hold on to Pulis's party pooping point prize, and so, when one of the two sides who run out to the Liquidator next do, they will do so as Champions.
Despite the home side breaking their goal drought in the previous game, the organisers of the Albion's goal of the season competition decided it was time to cut their losses (no pun intended) and draw (again, no pun intended) a line under this season and award the prize to Chris Brunt's strike against Sunderland,
Pulis stuck with most of the side who had stopped his five-game rot with the draw away at Burnley although his 631 formation saw Nyom at inside-left-back (or outside-left-centre-back) not Wilson, who thus returned to an end-of-season bench that would give some much-needed matchday experience to the likes of Myhill, HRK, Morrison, Yacob, Chadli and Leko.
Albion would have a corner inside the first minute but it would be an end-of-season set-piece delivery, the kind of delivery that we'd seen up at Burnley, so sailing out for a goal-kick by the opposite corner flag. Chelsea would get a corner in the twelfth minute, via the hand of Brunt after the ref waved away half-hearted shouts for a pen, but from the corner, Field intercepted the Chelsea build-up play and set McClean free to run upfield, a run which resulted in, solely because of Rondon's sprinting out at full tilt from his defensive duties, a two-on-one break against Luiz, that McClean would then squander by passing behind the Venuzuelan, which was a pity because whenever he was up against the Brazilian, he seemed to have the better of him throughout the game, which made it even more of a pity that he had so few opportunities up against him throughout the game.
With a game plan that's been reliant on set-pieces and breakaways for any semblence of attacking intent all season, the Albion's wasting of two such eventualities within the first fifteen minutes suggested that the goal-of-the-season organisers had been correct in their calling a premature end to the season,
The end of the half would almost mirror the start of it in that McClean would get played in behind the Chelsea back four by Rondon but not could find a cross that could avoid Luiz, with the resultant corner woefuly overhit by Fletcher.
In the second minute of the second half, Moses, who had already drawn a yellow card out of McClean's petulance with the linesman, whilst in the left-back area in the first-half, was now confronted by a McClean in a similar area who could merely stand off him, and so had enough space to get off for a drive that Foster needed to dive at full stretch to palm away.
Sam Field was given just three minutes of the second half in which to prove something to his manager, and clearly didn't, as Pulis replaced him with Yacob, who would be on hand to prevent Dawson putting through his own net as Albion retreated further and further backwards, whilst McClean, the other Albion player to have picked up a first-half card, would make way in a like-for-like swap with Chadli. shortly before McAuley would pick up a knock that would see him replaced just after the hour - cue the usual back six shuffle involving Dawson, Nyom and oncoming substitute Wilson.
With twenty minutes to go, Yacob got a foot-in, then gave the ball away and then got another foot-in and passed to Rondon, just inside the Albion half, who then spun past Luiz and charged off upfield, however all the tireless running he's done meant that he couldn't quite keep ahead of Azpuliceuta who was able to block the shot for a corner, from which Chelsea broke upfield resulting in Wilson taking one for the team with a blatant pull-back in midfield, before Albion were off breaking up the field again through Livermore, who played in Chadli cutting in from the right flank, only, though not for the first time this season either, for the ex-Spurs man to fail to hit the target despite a clear sight of the goal, and so hand his ex-club a lifeline, let alone his current club a lead.
In the seventy-seventh minute, Pulis had clearly come up with a plan of such technical complexity that it required it to be delivered to his marskall on the field, Fletcher, on a piece of paper, to then pass on the other players, but which merely looked, albeit to those of us who have never played the game professionally, like a simple swap from a back six to a back five.
Without seeing the paper, of course, we'll never know what this plan was, although in coming to terms with it Albion switched off to concede a goal of an uncanilly similar manner to the one which they conceded against Burnley, when a bout of head tennis and hardly-half-clearences by the Albion passengers on the bus in the box, ended with Chelsea's centre-back Cahill, who was by now playing on the edge of our box, slicing a ball over into the left side of the area where Azpulicueta would play the part of Burnley's Barnes in nutmegging Brunt, in the role of Livermore, with a ball along the ground to the near post where Batshuayi found himself as unattended by Dawson, as Vokes had been up at Turf Moor, although the Chelsea player's prod past a helpless Foster went into the far side netting and so spoilt the illusion, albeit not the cruel irony of the Pulis Plan not being undone, in the eighty-first minute, by the slick passing it has been designed to stifle but by the bad luck of a sliced pass that all sit back and invite the oppostion on plans will always be inherently flawed by.
Albion, of course, reamin in eighth place, although a Southampton win by three goals, or more, at Middlesborough would see us slip to ninth, whilst Leicester City would need to win by five, away at Man City, or Bournemouth and West Ham, albeit at home, pull off equally unlikely wins by nine and ten goals, to Burnley and Liverpool respectively, to drag Pulis's team any further down by the end of this weekend.
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