With Chelsea’s match with West Brom on Monday already shaping up to be a season-defining showdown, the game will hinge on several key matchups across the pitch.
The Blues desperately need the victory after back-to-back heavy defeats, whereas the visitors need to start picking up points fast in order to avoid the drop. Antonio Conte’s men won the reverse fixture 4-0 at the Hawthorns in November, and will be looking for a similar result to crack out of their current malaise.
Here are 3 key battles that could decide Monday’s clash at Stamford Bridge:
3. Olivier Giroud vs Jonny Evans
With the deadline-day signing in line to make his full debut after moving across London, Olivier Giroud will be hoping to make an immediate impact against the bottom club.
He will have a tricky test against Jonny Evans, long-coveted by the likes of Man City and Arsenal as one of the most reliable centre-backs in the Premier League. Both players are formidable in the air and the Frenchman will have his work cut out in his search for a first Chelsea goal.
2. Daniel Sturridge vs Antonio Rudiger
Alan Pardew’s calls for added firepower in January were answered with the loan arrival of Daniel Sturridge from Liverpool, and the Englishman will fancy his chances against his former club on Monday.
With the usual stern three-man backline out-of-sorts, Sturridge will feel he can exploit the lack of confidence, with Andreas Christensen greatly missed during his injury layoff.
Antonio Rudiger has had a solid, if unspectacular first season at Stamford Bridge, and will have to be at his best to contain Sturridge’s electric pace, although the German is himself no slouch.
1. Eden Hazard vs Craig Dawson
As has been the norm at Chelsea for a couple of seasons, if Eden Hazard plays well, the rest of the team invariably follows, with the winger having the potential to unlock any defence.
The Belgian was virtually the only player to emerge with some credit from the 4-1 loss at Vicarage Road last time out, single-handedly dragging his team back into the game with a solo effort from 20 yards.
Chelsea’s number ten will feel he has the beating of Craig Dawson, and should he get past him on a number of occasions, there will only be one end result come full-time, with three points heading to Antonio Conte’s men.