Albion fans have taken Chelsea's Lukaku to heart as one of their own. His hard graft on and off the pitch, his determination to always get better and the goals he has scored this season have seen “The Fridge” (as he is nicknamed at the Albion) become a bit of a hero, and has surely left Chelsea fans wondering whether letting him go for a season was the right call.
After an awful January, optimism has returned to the Hawthorns on the back of two wins. Talk of Europe has returned, not only from fans but also from players, and confidence is high. One issue for Albion this Saturday is that Lukaku, who seems to exude confidence, will be out.
In their last two games, West Brom have scored four goals. Lukaku has scored three of those goals. On a good run, Albion will be thinking more about keeping their key players playing, keep the momentum going, but they don’t have that option. However, it doesn’t mean they don’t have options.
Shane Long has had a good season and performs much better when the team is playing with the confidence they currently have. The last time Albion and Chelsea met, Long scored and Albion went on to win. And that was without Lukaku. That’s what Albion will look at, and belief will be there.
Lukaku’s absence also provides a chance of redemption for Peter Odemwingie. His ill-fated decision to travel to QPR on transfer deadline day, his Twitter outbursts; none of it has sat well with the Albion fans. The reception he received when he came on in Albion’s win against Sunderland shows he has a lot of making up to do.
Odemwingie scored the winner the last time the two clubs met and he could do no better than to do similar again this Saturday if he wants to make any effort in getting the fans back on his side. He tends to play well against the bigger clubs, and a start may be on the cards. He can’t afford to miss his chance.
Albion tend to line up as a 4-2-3-1, and the resurgence in form coincides with the return of the partnership of Youssouf Mulumbu and Claudio Yacob. Their performance on Saturday will be key to how Albion get on.
If Mulumbu and Yacob play at their best, they can prevent Chelsea playing at their attacking best, and they can also start the counter attack moves that Albion have done so well this season. If they can cut out the likes of Hazard and Lampard, the tension in Stamford Bridge could become a huge factor in playing against the home side.
It is no secret that Chelsea fans have not taken to Rafa Benitez, and if the result doesn’t seem to be going in the way the Chelsea fans want they could create an atmosphere in the ground that could do more harm to their team than good. Chelsea will be after a quick goal, and if it doesn’t come, Rafa can expect the worst.
The last two times these sides have met, Albion have won. Weirdly, on both occasions, the Chelsea manager has got the sack afterwards. Neither of those managers (Villas-Boas and Di Matteo) dared speak in the press in the way Rafa has recently, and calling the decision to name him ‘interim manager’ as a “massive mistake” surely won’t please Abramovich and friends.
Even without Lukaku, Albion head to Stamford Bridge with an air of optimism, which is in stark contrast to the mood at Chelsea currently. If Chelsea don’t score quickly, the fans will turn, and what impact will that have? The game is there for the taking for both teams.
As for Rafa, he may find himself being envious of the reception Steve Clarke will no doubt receive as he returns to a club that he had so many great moments at with no other than Jose Mourinho. A defeat on Saturday and could he find himself added to the list of Chelsea managers that haven’t survived after the Albion.