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Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. West Bromwich Albion

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  • Baggies have won just one of their last 15 league games in London
  • Only Chelsea and Man City have 100 percent home league records so far this season
  • Mourinho is unbeaten in 65 Premier League home games with Chelsea

Up until last weekends hiccup at St. James Park, things have been ticking over smoothly for Chelsea.

Jose Mourinho’s squad rotation has been having the desired effect, as they won six straight games in October across all competitions.

But that 2-0 defeat to Newcastle last weekend saw Mourinho lash out at his team as he claimed that he made “11 mistakes” when selecting his starting lineup.

When West Bromwich Albion visit Chelsea on Saturday (10am ET, watch live on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports Live Extra) the Blues will be hoping to record a comfortable home win to try and close the gap on league leaders Arsenal to two-points before the Gunners visit Manchester United on Sunday.

Obviously Mourinho’s men are built to challenge in all competitions, with the PL, UEFA Champions League and Domestic Cups all in sight. But the lack of continuity constant chopping and changing (watch PST Extra above for more on that) brings has seen his side fail to light up the league so far… even though they’re sat in second place.

(WATCH – PST Extra: Talking Manchester United vs. Arsenal, Chelsea’s struggles and the South Wales derby)

In the lead up to the game, much of the talk has been about Eden Hazard and the fact that Mourinho left him out of Chelsea’s squad for the 3-0 UCL win over Schalke in midweek. The Belgian international apparently traveled to a foreign country when he wasn’t supposed to and then lost his passport while he was there. That infuriated Mourinho, who says Hazard has apologized and he’s now in contention to face West Brom

As for the Baggies, West Brom are comfortably sliding back into mid-table after a tricky start and Mourinho’s former assistant manager Steve Clarke has put the Midlands club back on course. A win at Manchester United and a draw at home with Arsenal in the past few weeks has shown that WBA can hang in with the big boys, and the emergence of youngster Saido Berahino has given Clarke’s team a massive boost.

(MORE: Preview – Norwich City vs. West Ham United)

Injury wise, Chelsea will be without Fernando Torres who has a thigh injury, which means Demba Ba or Samuel Eto’o could start. West Brom winger, and former Chelsea youngster, Scott Sinclair will miss out on a return to his former club after suffering a hamstring strain. Another former Chelsea man, Nicolas Anelka, is also doubtful but Victor Anichebe is fit again.

What they’re saying

Mourinho on meeting his former assistant Steve Clarke: “I am very happy to meet Steve Clarke again. It will be a difficult game because he organizes his teams well. He was more than an assistant coach… in charge of training methodology, sessions, match preparation. We stay in touch but not speaking about our jobs directly. Every game Steve Clarke plays I wish he will win, but tomorrow that is not the case which is strange.”

Steve Clarke on how his side can beat Chelsea: “A win wouldn’t mean anything to me other than the fact it’s another three points for the Albion. It would be a good scalp to take, winning at Stamford Bridge and beating Chelsea, but that’s it. I think if we’re 100 per cent focused, and concentrated and play at our maximum, then we have an opportunity to compete with any team in the Premier League and that’s what we have to focus on.”

Prediction

On paper this looks like being a big win for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. But after that slip up against Newcastle last week and a few disturbing signs in the last few weeks, there will be nothing routine about this. West Brom have gone to Manchester United and won, and have several attacking talents who can wreck havoc, with the likes of Anichebe, Sessegnon, Brunt and others who can deliver a shock. I think Mourinho’s men will grind out a win but it may not be pretty.

Seven unheralded stars of this Premier League season

during the Barclays Premier League match between A.F.C. Bournemouth and Tottenham Hotspur at Vitality Stadium on October 25, 2015 in Bournemouth, England.
Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images
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Look, it’s been a crazy year in the Premier League. Leicester City is top by five points, Chelsea is a bottom-half side, and not one of the league’s top three scorers hails from a team in last season’s Top Four.

So it follows that among the league’s other statistical leaders — advanced and traditional — are some surprisingly shining stars.

[ MORE: West Ham 3-2 Liverpool | Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

Or at least they aren’t mentioned a ton. We plan to rectify that here. By no means do we claim these statistical leaders without fault this season, but hats off to the good they’ve done (or, in some cases, the pain they’ve felt).

Most saves in a starring role

You wouldn’t know it from the goal totals these past few weeks, but Stoke City’s Jack Butland has been playing otherworldly between the sticks. His 87 saves lead the Premier League, and the Potters would be in the thick of a relegation battle if he hadn’t shone as brightly.

Ironman

Eleven players have played every minute of their side’s Premier League campaign this season (a 12th, Gareth Barry, has played all but one). Four of those 11 are goalkeepers, and six more are defenders. The only midfielder? Bournemouth’s South African standout Andrew Surman (above).

Top thief, too

Surman is also the league leader in interceptions with 92. The next seven players on the list, headed by Chris Smalling, are all defenders.

The most under-appreciated of the underdogs

Kante (Mark Thompson / Getty Images)

Leicester City has been fantastic, and people are quick to name Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy as big parts of the table-topping effort at King Power Stadium. Then, perhaps they’ll say something about goalkeeper Kaspar Schmeichel or defender Wes Morgan.

But how about the Premier League’s leader in tackles. Midfielder N'Golo Kante (right) has 115 tackles, 12 more than second-best Yohan Cabaye of Crystal Palace.

An all-expense paid journey to the massage parlor for…

Five players have been fouled more than 50 times this year, and you need to be around the ball a lot for that to happen. The four also-rans are Southampton’s Sadio Mane, Swansea City’s Andre Ayew, Everton’s Ross Barkley and Mahrez, but the man who deserved to skip to the head of the ice bath line is from Crystal Palace: Wilfried Zaha has been fouled 59 times. And that’s the amount of times the foulers were caught in the act.

Let Newcastle United’s captain climb in second, though; Fabricio Coloccini‘s 47 blocked shots are eight more than runners-up Neil Taylor (Swans) and Christian Fuchs (Leicester).

A man possessed

He hasn’t been heralded like a year ago, and most witnesses would tell you the midfielder’s been playing much worse. No, touches don’t equal success, but Cesc Fabregas‘ 2,027 credited touches are 74 more than the next player despite the fact that he’s the only player in the top four to have started less than 25 matches. He’s also completed 83 more passes than the closest competitor (Surman).

All-around stars

Advanced stats site Squawka uses an algorithm to generate statistics on who just might be the most complete player in the Premier League.

It’s certainly not foolproof, but the best player per-90 minutes would likely surprise you: Mousa Dembele of Spurs (Minimum 15 matches).

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As for who’s produced the most when numbers are averaged out over the entire game, one man rises to the top: Ross Barkley.

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Oft-targeted in the Premier League, Carvalho extends deal at Lisbon

Christian Hofer / Getty Images Sport
Christian Hofer / Getty Images Sport
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William Carvalho has been running through the rumor mill for ages, and Sporting Lisbon has made sure they’ll get their due if he ever stops somewhere else.

The Angola-born Portuguese defensive midfielder with 15 caps has extended his contract with Sporting through 2020, a date that carries him through his 28th birthday.

[ MORE: West Ham 3-2 Liverpool | Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

Carvalho is 23 now, and has been linked with loads of big name clubs from Manchester United to Chelsea, Arsenal to PSG.

His new buyout clause is said to be as high as $53 million, and Carvalho hopes his commitment calms his supporters.

“Sportinguistas, I say to you that I am very happy with the deal which I signed up to 2020 and that you will have total effort on my part to be champions.”

Sporting is tied with Benfica atop the Portuguese table, second on goal differential. The club leads third-place Porto by six points, and is still alive in the Europa League. Bayer Leverkusen is up next.

Klinsmann hints at Euro-heavy roster for World Cup qualifiers

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 08:  Danny Williams #14 of the United States looks on before an international friendly against Brazil at Gillette Stadium on September 8, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)
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If your favorite Major League Soccer players don’t make the cut for Jurgen Klinsmann’s next roster, don’t think you won’t see them in the red, white and blue this summer.

[ JPW: What’s the best XI for USMNT’s World Cup qualifiers? ]

Perhaps it’ll be different for the players who were a part of January camp — stars Lee Nguyen and Steve Birnbaum chief among them — but Klinsmann says the late start of the MLS season can affect fitness for the critical qualifiers home and away to Guatemala.

That means there’s a better chance to see in-form Championship midfielder Danny Williams (above) or Pachuca’s Omar Gonzalez then, say, Orlando City’s Brek Shea or Real Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman.

From USSoccer.com:

“We are basically looking all over the place. We monitor all the players in Europe. We monitor all the players in Mexico, and obviously we can’t wait until MLS starts as well. It’s really kind of crucial that we see everybody getting in the best shape possible, everybody getting into a rhythm and making statements.

“Then you say, ‘Is the roster you see at the end of March the same one as Copa America?’ Probably not. The end of March comes early for MLS players. The European players are in the full swing, and also Mexican players because they started already a month ago with Liga MX. So we’ll be monitoring everyone.”

We’ve already covered the obstacle that is the CONCACAF-CONMEBOL Olympic qualifying playoff occurring at the same time as the Guatemala matches, but this is still good news for players in England, Germany and other European locales seeking caps in March.

Klopp on struggling Benteke: “He wants to score and we need him to score”

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 09:  Christian Benteke of Liverpool reacts as he foiled by goalkeeper Darren Randolph of West Ham United during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Replay match between West Ham United and Liverpool at Boleyn Ground on February 9, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
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Jurgen Klopp had his appendix removed this weekend, but it’s doubtful he’s feeling as sore as his big Belgian striker.

Christian Benteke had the opportunity to put himself in the good graces of Liverpool fans with a number of decent chances in Tuesday’s FA Cup loss to West Ham, but couldn’t get the job done.

[ MORE: Match recap | Watch Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

In one case, Benteke put himself in a prime spot only to lash his shot wide of the post. Instead, he’s now at 11 appearances without a goal (despite ripping nine shots against the Irons).

From the BBC:

“I don’t believe in the easy goal. He has to carry on like this. It’s not the nicest moment in his career but he has to work hard. He wants to score and we need him to score. We will work on it in the days, weeks and months.”

Klopp maintained that Liverpool was “the better team” on the night — counterpart Slaven Bilic disagreed — despite conceding a pair of very similar looking goals.

The game could’ve avoided extra time through Benteke’s boots and body, but he couldn’t find his finish again.

The 25-year-old has seen his goal production drop by nearly half since joining from Aston Villa in the summer, and it’s sure to return… just maybe not under Klopp.