Rampant Chelsea's 4-0 win at West Brom puts Pulis on the brink
WEST BROMWICH, England -- Three quick thoughts from Chelsea's 4-0 win over West Brom at the Hawthorns on Saturday.
1. Rampant Chelsea put Pulis on the brink
A Saturday afternoon stroll for Chelsea, but deep trouble for West Brom and manager Tony Pulis. Heavy defeat leaves the Baggies a point above the relegation zone, with their lowest total at this juncture of the season since going down in 2005-06. Just two wins in 21 matches -- and this horrific performance -- look to spell the end for Pulis.
Guochuan Lai, the club's new owner, was sat in the stands on a rare trip to the Hawthorns, and he might have noticed West Brom starting with a gusto, suggesting Pulis had given his players a dressing-room rocket before kickoff. They even had the ball in the net through Salomon Rondon, only for the Venezuelan to be ruled offside, a let-off for Thibaut Courtois, who had fumbled the ball behind the line.
Slowly, though, Chelsea began to carve the type of openings that eventually put West Brom to the sword. Tiemoue Bakayoko should have done rather better than drive a clear shot at goal wide, but the opener came in the 17th minute. Eden Hazard weaved through midfield and fired a low shot that Ben Foster could only parry.
Alvaro Morata stroked in from an angle, and the boos began from the home fans, although they might have applauded Chelsea's superlative second. Morata's flick was delicious, Hazard's finish clinical. Chelsea were 2-0 up in the 23rd minute and the match was all set to be a lengthy wake for Pulis' unpopular reign in the West Midlands.
Chelsea fans, meanwhile, have much to look forward to in the partnership that Morata and Hazard are striking up. Two players of top quality excelled in each other's company. Not that West Brom appeared prepared to put up any kind of resistance. Chelsea's third in the 38th minute was as simple as Cesc Fabregas chipping a free kick for an unmarked Marcos Alonso to divert in at the far post.
Pulis, a manager renowned for his rigorous drilling of set pieces, bellowed helpless invective into the sky and will have been only too aware of home fans' call to "get out of our club." His half-time answer was removing the hapless Grzegorz Krychowiak for Claudio Yacob, the Argentinian being at least a player that Baggies fans enjoy.
Yacob put himself about, involving himself in a couple of running battles with Fabregas, but still Hazard and Morata had the freedom of the Hawthorns, with Foster forced to make a couple of saves before Hazard, again given time and space, settled himself to score Chelsea's fourth.
That in the 63rd minute, sent Baggies fans peeling for the exits and a stiff drink. At a ground where they have had problems before, Chelsea had breezed to victory, climbing above Tottenham in the process. The gap to Manchester City may still be nine points, but Antonio Conte's team are not giving up just yet.
Pulis' players, meanwhile, did not seem willing to or capable of putting up any semblance of fight.
2. Fans barrack hapless Pulis
Pulis' prematch programme notes had been an attempt to justify himself, a lengthy detailing of his achievements at the Hawthorns, including keeping the club up for the past three seasons, finishing as top Midlands club last season and having a record number of international players. He even penned a small tribute to chairman John Williams -- "a good man."
There was mention of six academy players having "played over 89 games", although none were present in his matchday 18. "Please get behind the boys," he concluded, and the fans stuck to that side of the bargain, instead launching their understandable frustrations at him. A multitude of empty seats for the visit of England's champions was a telling pointer to the paying public's faith in Pulis.
Krychowiak, Gareth Barry and Jake Livermore, decent players all, did nothing to shield their defence with Hazard and Fabregas given such liberty to dictate play.
The suspicion is that Pulis, an unblemished master of avoiding relegation, is not suited to working with players of a higher grade. Such an accusation did him in at Stoke and is likely to sink him at West Brom. "Sacked in the morning," sang Baggies fans in the Smethwick End. It may not happen quite that soon, but Pulis' departure feels imminent.
3. Christensen impresses again
Antonio Conte had warned of complacency following the international break. Last month, Chelsea suffered a shocking defeat to Crystal Palace that badly damaged hopes of catching City to retain their title, but there was no such slip here. This was a highly professional performance.
Last week's internationals, however, had added to the burgeoning reputation of Andreas Christensen, outstanding during Denmark's 5-1 World Cup playoff crushing of Ireland. It appears Conte is happy for Christensen, just 21, to play as the central man of a defensive trio as David Luiz, on the bench here, stays on the naughty step after a bust-up with his manager after a 3-0 defeat at Roma.
Rondon, though not a prolific goal scorer, is a centre-forward who throws his weight around, and Christensen felt the brunt in the early stages of a physical buffeting but soon shrugged that off.
And it was his quality on the ball in building from the back and long passing that repeatedly started Chelsea's deadly attacks. Luiz might have to get used to life on the bench when Christensen looks so assured.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.