West Brom head coach Tony Pulis has reminded his players they will need to perform to the highest level if they are to take anything from their trip to Chelsea on Wednesday.
The Baggies visit Stamford Bridge unbeaten in three matches in all competitions and in pursuit of a third successive Premier League victory, but face a Chelsea team reinvigorated by the return of Guus Hiddink as interim manager.
Chelsea, who won 3-2 at The Hawthorns in August, have not lost any of the five matches since the sacking of Jose Mourinho and returned to rampant form as they demolished Crystal Palace 3-0 in their most recent league outing on January 3.
Pulis, therefore, is wary of the resurgent west Londoners.
“We know how tough the game against Chelsea is going to be,” he said. “They have wonderful players. We need to be at our best.
“We have been steady with the players in training ahead of the trip.”
Pulis is hopeful that Jonas Olsson and Victor Anichebe will be available for selection after recent hamstring injuries, and the Baggies boss has been pleased with the effort shown by his players during a hectic period – West Brom will play six games in 25 days between Wednesday and the meeting with Newcastle United on February 6.
“I can’t fault the effort of the players,” he said. “They have worked really hard and we will now need to manage them over the next few weeks with two consecutive midweek games coming up. The lads are really fit and they keep going.”
Hiddink could be without his three first-choice striking options. Diego Costa picked up a minor knock during Sunday’s 2-0 victory over Scunthorpe United in the FA Cup and is rated “doubtful”, while Loic Remy (calf) and Radamel Falcao (groin) are also out.
Costa would be a significant absence for Hiddink, under whom the Spaniard has blossomed. Having scored three league goals in 14 appearances prior to Hiddink’s arrival, Costa has equalled that haul in his two outings with the Dutchman as interim manager.
“I think he’s a very energetic, powerful personality. He’s focusing himself now in what he’s good at. And [scoring goals] is what he’s good at,” Hiddink said.
“He’s focusing on what he has to do. Sometimes you lose your energy in things out of where you have to be. And [I told him] ‘don’t do that, don’t let people provoke you, don’t go into traps. Go and use your energy where you’re good at’.”
Eden Hazard (groin) is unlikely to be risked, while Nemanja Matic (concussion) is also a doubt and Oscar (toe) will be assessed ahead of the clash.
Key Opta stats –
– West Brom have lost more Premier League games against Chelsea than versus any other opponent (14).
– Guus Hiddink has lost just one of his 16 Premier League games as a manager (W12 D3 L1) and has the best win ratio of any manager to have taken charge of four or more games in the competition (75%).
– Diego Costa has had a hand in three goals (two goals, one assist) in three Premier League games against West Brom.
– The Baggies have not scored in the opening 15 minutes of a Premier League game since May 18 2015 and are the only side yet to do so this season.
– In fact, this goal was scored by Saido Berahino versus Chelsea and was also the last goal that Chelsea have conceded in the opening 15 minutes of a Premier League match.