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West Bromwich Albion have this evening been dealt a major injury blow during the early stages of their Premier League clash with Chelsea.
The two sides are currently locked in action at Stamford Bridge, with Antonio Conte’s men desperate for all 3 points following a dismal run of form which saw the Blues fall to consecutive 3-goal defeats at the hands of Bournemouth and Watford.
Tonight’s result could prove particularly decisive regarding Antonio Conte’s future in the English capital, with widespread claims over the last week that a loss will see the Italian tactician sacked by Chelsea.
West Brom, meanwhile, have fallen to defeats in their last 2 Premier League outings, the latter of which came in hugely disappointing fashion at home to fellow strugglers Southampton.
Ahead of tonight, the Baggies sat rock bottom of the English top-flight table, a full 5 points behind 19th-placed Stoke City.
The lineups for tonight’s crucial matchup were announced an hour prior to kick-off, with a number of notable inclusions and absences for hosts Chelsea.
Andreas Christensen returned to the heart of the Blues’ defence following a spell on the sidelines, while Olivier Giroud earned his first start for the Premier League champions up front.
Cesc Fabregas was also included from the start, stepping in for the suspended Tiemoue Bakayoko, while Alvaro Morata was fit enough for a place on the Chelsea bench.
However, Marcos Alonso was a notable absentee, with the Spaniard having been a surprise late scratch from the Blues’ squad for their clash with Watford last week as a ‘precautionary measure’.
Team to face WBA: Courtois; Azpilicueta (c), Christensen, Rudiger; Moses, Kante, Fabregas, Zappacosta; Pedro, Giroud, Hazard.
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) February 12, 2018
West Brom boss Alan Pardew, meanwhile, opted for the following, with Daniel Sturridge joining Salomon Rondon in a dangerous-looking forward line for the Baggies:
— West Bromwich Albion (@WBA) February 12, 2018
However, in a massive blow for the visitors with just 2 minutes on the clock, Danny Sturridge went to ground clutching his hamstring following an innocuous challenge from Cesar Azpilicueta, with the 28-year-old eventually succumbing to the problem and making his way down the Stamford Bridge tunnel with frustration etched across his face.
Jay Rodriguez was introduced as Sturridge’s replacement, with the Liverpool loanee’s slim hopes of earning a place in England’s World Cup squad taking a possibly fatal blow.
Paul Pogba was seen limping through the mixed zone and apparently winced when asked about his injury following Manchester United’s defeat to Newcastle United on Sunday.
The Frenchman pulled up and winced after taking a shot in the warm up and, despite usually being one of the last, went down the tunnel before anyone else, casting doubt over whether he would start against the Magpies.
He did manage to start but was clearly miles below his best, ambling through the game and losing the ball on several occasions before being hooked off after 65 minutes.
And while Jose Mourinho insisted after the game that Pogba had “no problems”, Press Association’s Simon Peach managed to capture a video which hints towards the exact opposite.
#MUFC midfielder Paul Pogba limped through the mixed zone (not particularly clear in this video). Despite appearing to be in some discomfort, still stopped to have pictures with kids. Winced when asked how he was pic.twitter.com/MeUSgatrgR
— Simon Peach (@SimonPeach) February 11, 2018
There was plenty that didn’t make much sense at St James’ Park: Mourinho’s decision to use a system that has failed them on numerous occasions already this season, along with the use of the same back four which crumbled at Wembley, are just a couple of examples.
But perhaps the most ludicrous of all was the decision to keep Pogba on the pitch despite it being clear that the Frenchman was operating at about 60 per cent.
This was notably different from performances criticised in the past. Even then, the 24-year-old always wanted the ball, always felt involved, determined to bend the game in United’s favour.
Against Newcastle, however, he seemed to float through the encounter like a ghost, barely noticeable at times, his mind and body clearly not in step with the game like usual. Supporters will only hope to see a replenished, fully-fit Pogba next time around.
Chelsea star Alvaro Morata has handed the club a major boost in terms of his fitness if the latest post on his Twitter account is to be believed, with the player claiming he’s back and ready to train with the club once more after being out for some time.
Training session done! Going back home! pic.twitter.com/rS5QSzyzmx
— Álvaro Morata (@AlvaroMorata) February 10, 2018
It could well be the case that Morata is building up his fitness again after being out for so long, and according to manager Conte, he doesn’t know when the player will be back and ready to take part again – though Chelsea will almost certainly be hoping the player is ready for their second leg against Barcelona, if not their first.
It seems there’s no set date for him to return from injury, with Conte cryptic at best when speaking about a set timeline.
On Friday Conte had said: “We are talking a lot about bad results, but sometimes we forget we are facing a serious situation. Players like Morata, for us, are very important and have been missing for a long period of time.
“I don’t know how long he will be out. We are struggling a lot to find a solution to solve the pain in his back. If you ask me whether he needs a day, a month or the rest of the season, I don’t know. I don’t know.
For this reason, I’m a bit worried. You know very well the importance of the player.”
One thing Morata has been talking about is his former club Real Madrid, who have been linked with Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois in recent months, and it seems that while the forward was happy to put his thanks to Chelsea on record, the main point of his comments was to make it clear that Madrid will always be his home and a key club for him – another thing that Chelsea fans may worry about.
Premier League leaders Manchester City are ‘likely’ to have winger Leroy Sane available for their Champions League matchup with Basel on Tuesday night.
Blistering wide-man Sane has been on the sidelines since picking up an ankle injury during City’s FA Cup 4th round victory over Cardiff two weeks ago, following a horror challenge from Blubirds’ defender Joe Bennett:
Pep Guardiola revealed in his post-match press conference following the clash that Sane looked set to be sidelined for ‘a while, a few weeks or months’, with City later confirming that the former Schalke star suffered ligament damage to his ankle.
Guardiola went on to put a timetable on Sane’s return in the days that followed, with the former Barcelona boss having estimated ‘six or seven weeks out’ for the 22-year-old.
Ahead of schedule
However, over the last couple of days, a surprising update on Sane’s condition has revealed that the winger has incredibly already returned to light training.
Guardiola confirmed as much over the weekend, but also revealed that ‘I don’t think he will be back for the Champions League’ (vs Basel).
‘Most likely’ scenario
But, in yet another update coming courtesy of reliable journalist Jose Alvarez Haya this evening, signs now point towards Sane being included in the Citizens’ squad set to travel to Switzerland tomorrow:
— Jose Alvarez Haya (@10JoseAlvarez) February 11, 2018
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