The Big Match

New thorn in special one's side at the Hawthorns?

Pulis has won last 2 games versus Blues, who may give debuts to Pedro, Rahman

It was Chelsea's joint heaviest defeat under Jose Mourinho. They had lost 3-0. One of their talismen had made an ignominiously early exit.

Another, Diego Costa, seemed more keen to start fights than score goals. A side who tend to be the epitome of organisation seemed uncharacteristically ragged.

That was equally true at the Etihad Stadium last Sunday as it was at the Hawthorns in May.

John Terry was hauled off at half-time last week. Cesc Fabregas was sent off three months ago for booting the ball at the referee, even if he actually hit West Bromwich Albion's Chris Brunt.

Then, as more recently, Chelsea looked petulant and unhappy.

Perhaps the seeds of a summer of discontent and this season's slow start were sowed then.

Belatedly, Mourinho ought to be more satisfied now. One transfer target, Everton centre-back John Stones, may still elude him but two have joined this week.

Augsburg left-back Baba Rahman and Barcelona winger Pedro have arrived, both for £21 million (S$46 million). Pedro, a triple Champions League winner, could debut tomorrow. Mourinho's blueprint may be amended, with a more potent finisher taking the right-wing role usually filled by infrequent scorer Willian.

Chelsea have turned to a World Cup winner to reverse their fortunes. The last time they began this poorly, in 1998, they had just signed one: Marcel Desailly. He was a high-class centre-back.

Mourinho's teams have also tended to be frugal.

They conceded only 15 goals in 38 league games in 2004-05. Now, they have let in five in two.

One defensive change is certain. Asmir Begovic was Chelsea's best player against Manchester City but goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has served his ban.

The teamsheet will be scrutinised to see if Terry retains his place and if the hideously out-of-form Branislav Ivanovic is dropped for Rahman, with Cesar Azpilicueta switching flanks.

Because it is rare that a top team endure a spell when none of the key players is performing well.

Nor is the manager, whose tactics have been uninspired and whose sides have not looked well-drilled or motivated of late.

Now, he faces a foe who has bettered him. Tony Pulis has won his last two games against Mourinho.

The Albion manager has also suffered a 3-0 defeat to City this season - when, unlike the Portuguese, he admitted he got his tactics wrong - and has gone for a back-to-basics approach.

West Brom are focusing on solidity. They have a club-record signing, the £12 million striker Salomon Rondon, who was recommended by former Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas, but they have yet to score this season.

It promises to be a tight, tactical battle. Normally, Mourinho likes those. Yet, Chelsea have not looked their normal selves of late. Another setback would prompt talk of crisis.

WEST BROMWICH V CHELSEA
Singtel TV Ch102 & StarHub Ch227, tomorrow, 8.30pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2015, with the headline 'NEW THORN IN SPECIAL ONE'S SIDE AT THE HAWTHORNS?'. Print Edition | Subscribe