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Premier League preview: Chelsea v West Bromwich Albion

West Bromwich Albion could end the spell of a Chelsea manager for the third time in less than a year if they win at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

In the wake of Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez’s press conference on Wednesday, where he slammed the club’s board and fans, the 52-year-old Spaniard may not even make it to Saturday’s game against West Brom.

But if Benitez does lead Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, a defeat to West Brom may be the last straw for Roman Abramovich, as it has been for Andre Villas-Boas and Roberto Di Matteo before him.

Villas-Boas was sacked on March 4 last year in the wake of a 1-0 defeat at The Hawthorns, which came thanks to Gareth McAuley’s late goal for West Brom.

Di Matteo initially replaced Villas-Boas on an interim basis but after a superb end to the season – in which Chelsea were crowned European champions and won the FA Cup – he was appointed permanently.

That lasted just a matter of months though for the former Chelsea player, with Russian owner Abramovich deciding to dispense with the services of the Italian – a former West Brom manager himself – after another defeat at The Hawthorns.

This time, Shane Long and Peter Odemwingie were on target in a 2-1 win in November, one of many eye-catching results Steve Clarke’s side recorded in the first half of the season.

Chelsea may be through to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup and the last 16 of the Europa League but their league form has been poor and for that reason current caretaker manager Benitez is feeling the heat.

Never popular at Stamford Bridge due to his Liverpool past, which saw him make inflammatory comments about his current club, Benitez has seen his side win just three of their past eight English Premier League fixtures.

Benitez lashed out during the week after his side defeated Middlesbrough 2-0 in the FA Cup fifth round, confirming he will not stay Chelsea after this season and claiming the London club’s fans would be better off supporting their team rather than wasting their energy chanting at him.

With Arsenal just two points behind Chelsea and snapping at their heels in fifth position, Benitez’s team are under pressure, and failure to qualify for Europe’s premier club competition would be disastrous as the Spanish manager pointed out after the win over Middlesbrough.

January transfer window signing Demba Ba, who cost seven million pounds from Newcastle, has scored just three times in 11 appearances while Spaniard Fernando Torres has also failed to score regularly this campaign.

Instead it has been veteran Frank Lampard who has been a consistent source of goals, with the midfielder scoring four in his last five league appearances.

Chelsea have also been poor defensively – they are without a clean sheet in six – and will be tested by West Brom.

Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku, on loan from Chelsea, has three goals in his last two fixtures for West Brom and sits equal-sixth on the league’s scoring charts with 12 this campaign.

He has been important in his side’s good run of form but will miss the match due to a clause in his loan deal.

The responsibility to score goals may fall on the shoulders of Nigerian Peter Odemwingie instead, with the forward yet to start since trying to force through a deadline day move to QPR in January.

West Brom have a settled, consistent side and they will be quietly confident of pulling off an upset in west London.

History is against them though. Before their two recent wins against Chelsea, West Brom lost 12 matches on the trot dating back to 1989.

Thu 28 February, 2013
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