If Chelsea’s title challenge falls narrowly short this season, it won’t be because the London side have failed to impress in the big games.
Jose Mourinho has lived up to his reputation as a man who knows how to get the best out of his squad when confronted with top-tier opposition, guiding Chelsea to an undefeated Premier League record against the current top four sides – picking up an impressive 22 of 24 points in the nine matches against Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal.
Uncharacteristically, however, Mourinho’s blues have dropped seven points at home to three sides – West Brom, West Ham and Sunderland – who currently find themselves amongst the league’s bottom seven.
Canaries.co.uk took an in-depth look at those three matches to see if Neil Adams’ Norwich side might be able to take any inspiration into Sunday’s encounter at Stamford Bridge – as the Canaries prepare to battle to keep their Premier League survival hopes alive.
Chelsea 2-2 West Brom
Still under the management of Mourinho’s understudy, Steve Clarke, at the time, West Brom were denied a famous away win at Stamford Bridge by the award of a controversial late penalty – with Stephen Reid judged to have unfairly brought down Ramires in the 94th minute.
Clarke had set his Baggies side up on the day in a 4-4-1-1 with the two banks of four led by the duo of Stephane Sessegnon and Shane Long up front.
Both Long and Sessegnon scored the away side’s goals on the day, while as a defensive unit, West Brom managed to restrict Chelsea to the relative low of just seven shots on target.
In classic underdog fashion, Clarke’s side struck once from a set-piece and scored their second on a fast-breaking counter-attack.
That second looked for a long period to be the match-winner. Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic stormed forward but surrendered the ball under some midfield pressure, with Sessegnon eventually profiting at the other end as the Baggies swept forward clinically in transition.
Chelsea 0-0 West Ham
After this frustrating nil-nil draw for Chelsea, Mourinho accused West Ham of playing football from the ‘19th century’ as he fumed at his side dropping another two points at home in their title pursuit.
The reality is, however, that Sam Allardyce set up his West-Ham side in much the same way that Chelsea have recently earned crucial results away to Atletico Madrid and Liverpool.
The star of the show was, without question, West Ham goalkeeper Adrián.
Mourinho’s side pelted the West Ham goal throughout the game, amassing a staggering 39 shots (9 on target) and dominating possession, seeing over 72% of the ball.
Adrián made a number of crucial saves either side of half-time to earn the clean sheet for his side, but the high number of Chelsea shots in the match is evidence of West Ham’s effectiveness in limiting the blues to speculative strikes from range.
Whether or not it was intended, Allardyce’s midfield five quickly collapsed into one flat bank, sitting just outside of his side’s own penalty area, as the Hammers put in a classic backs-to-the-wall shift. They defended remarkably deeply in their own third for virtually the entire game.
With West Ham’s physical presence at the back, notably the centre-half pairing of James Collins and James Tomkins, Chelsea’s attempts to attack more directly with balls from wide areas were also successfully thwarted.
Chelsea 1-2 Sunderland
It will perhaps comes as no surprise that all three of West Brom, West Ham and Sunderland showed up at Stamford Bridge and turned out with variations of a traditionally defensive-minded 4-5-1 formation.
Sunderland, who dramatically ended Chelsea’s 78-game unbeaten run at home under Mourinho with a recent 1-2 victory in London, employed a surprisingly attacking take on a 4-2-3-1, however.
The Black Cats opted for an outright striker, goalscorer Connor Wickham, backed by three attack-minded midfielders in Adam Johnson, Sebastian Larsson and Fabio Borini.
In the end, it was Sunderland’s late-match pressure well up the pitch that proved to be the difference, with Wickham’s replacement, Jozy Altidore, forcing Cesar Azpilicueta into a turnover, which ultimately led to the match-wining penalty being awarded.
Poyet’s side also capitalised on a shrewdly planned set-piece routine to score a crucial 1-1 equaliser in the first half. Larsson pulled back a corner to the awaiting Marcus Alonso at the top box, he let fly, and Wickham pounced to bury the rebound after Peter Cech spilled the effort.
Of the three teams to have taken points off Chelsea at Stamford Bridge this season, Sunderland enjoyed the most possession (38%), likely owing to Poyet’s decision to employ a trio of technical players relatively high up the pitch compared to the teams set out by West Brom and West Ham.
Chelsea did muster an impressive 31 shots in the game, with Vito Mannone called on to make 14 saves in an impressive performance, but ultimately the Blues failed to carve out a clear-cut chance as they surged forward in search of a late equaliser.
Possession not required
As evidenced by Chelsea’s three home slip-ups, there is not necessarily a need to expect to control much of the ball, with Mourinho’s side having controlled 67.3% of the play in the three matches we looked at.
In classic counter-attacking fashion, West Brom and Sunderland - who both scored two goals each at the Bridge - instead maximised their set-piece opportunities and hit the home team with quick transitional attacks after key turnovers.
‘Keeping the faith
No surprise here, but all three of Boas Myhill, Adrián and Vito Mannone were called upon to be at their best with Chelsea inevitably finding a way to create quality chances.
With World Cup selection awaiting, John Ruddy
will undoubtedly have plenty of opportunity to show-off his shot-stopping skills on Sunday.
4-5-1’s the one
Whether in a 4-4-1-1, a 4-2-3-1 or a defensively flat 4-5-1, all three of the successful visiting sides to Chelsea have employed a variation of a five-man midfield.
With Chelsea’s primary attacking threat coming from a relatively central trio of attacking midfielders, the Blues have at times struggled to break through a congested central area.
And with the five man midfield set-ups backed-up by a strong physical presence in central defence, Chelsea have equally struggled to find much joy with aerial attacks into the penalty areas.