Chelsea vs. West Bromwich Albion: 6 Things We Learnt
The Senegalese frontman struck after 28 minutes to give the Blues a much-needed three points in a week where the spotlight had been thrust upon the club for all the wrong reasons.
Despite securing a quarter-final meeting against Manchester United after a 2-0 victory over Middlesbrough in the FA Cup, all the talk leading into their meeting against West Brom was focused on Rafa Benitez's rant after the Boro game (via BBC Sport).
Would the Spaniard be the target of more vitriolic diatribes from the Chelsea crowd? How would the players react? Would the atmosphere at Stamford Bridge improve or regress further? Would he even be manager?
Well, a 1-0 victory went some way to helping Benitez's cause, with all these questions and more answered. Bleacher Report looks at six things we learnt from this outing.
Romelu Lukaku's Stock Continues to Rise
There are times in a player's career that an absence can often lead to their reputation increasing. Take Jack Wilshere at Arsenal, for instance.
The 21-year-old midfielder is an incredible talent and is en route to becoming one of the club's finest players. He missed all of the last campaign due to a troublesome ankle injury, and many Arsenal fans were of the belief that the club's problems would miraculously be solved upon his return.
We all know that's far from the case, but Wilshere, already adored by Arsenal fans, suddenly became a messiah during his injury lay-off. And of all of this without him kicking a ball in anger throughout 2011-12.
Bringing him back to the starting lineup was supposed to move Arsenal closer to a credible title challenge, but while he's solved one problem in midfield, others have reared their head elsewhere on the pitch.
The same can be said for Romelu Lukaku, with Chelsea fans watching on in awe as his performances this term continue to catch the attention of Premier League crowds. The only problem is, he's doing it on loan for West Bromwich Albion.
He missed Saturday's game as he's unable to play against Chelsea as part of his loan agreement. And if anyone was in doubt as to his influence at The Hawthorns this year, surely Saturday's game would have convinced them otherwise.
Without the young Belgian, West Brom were toothless in attack. They enjoyed a brief spell of promise as the game closed out, but for large parts of this outing, they were weak going forward and lacked the physical presence Lukaku brings.
By not playing against his parent club, Lukaku probably enjoyed his most convincing display of 2012-13.
Has Rafa's Rant Had the Desired Effect?
OK, so we didn't learn a massive amount about how Chelsea fans still view Rafa Benitez after that much-discussed rant after the Middlesbrough game, but there was a suggestion it may have impacted the Chelsea supporters.
The banners—and knives for that matter—were still out at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, but there is no doubting the crowd seemed more focused on the game than they were on venting their frustrations at Benitez.
The opposite had been expected, but with a 1-0 win that moved them back up to third in the table ahead of the North London derby on Sunday, the afternoon ended with the football the main talking point.
It was somewhat refreshing, too. While it may have proved a tough 48 hours for Benitez leading into this fixture, if the rest of the season pans out this way for Chelsea, it would have been worth it.
Benitez wasn't point-scoring when he called out the fans during his press conference at the Riverside, but if he were, the scoreboard would read Rafa 1-0 Chelsea fans. And that's definitely a positive for everyone attached to Chelsea.
John Terry's Powers Are Waning
There was a time that any manager at Chelsea would think twice about leaving John Terry on the bench. Not anymore, it seems.
Since injuring his knee against Liverpool in November, he has played just six times and was forced to watch from the sidelines yet again as Chelsea faced West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, suggesting the Blues captain may have to get used to it.
There have been reports of Terry and interim manager Rafa Benitez coming to blows on the training field (via The Sun), and when such stories have done the rounds in the past, it has led to managers being shown the exit door. But are those days over?
Benitez's control of the dressing room doesn't appear to have been affected, and with five days between the West Brom game and Chelsea's visit to Steaua Bucharest on Thursday, Saturday was the perfect opportunity to give him some much-needed game time.
The real statement of Terry's position will come on Mar. 10 when Chelsea come up against Manchester United in the FA Cup at Old Trafford. It's probably one of Benitez's biggest matches since he took charge, and if he benches Terry for that, well, his position will be clear.
Ben Foster Deserves an England Recall
On a self-imposed two-year sabbatical from international football, Ben Foster has been missing from England squads since 2011.
However, he announced last week that he was ready for a return to the international setup (via The Guardian) should Roy Hodgson choose to pick him. And after his performance against Chelsea on Saturday, there's no doubting the England manager should.
Although the Blues have enjoyed better performances this term, they should have been out of sight before half-time, let alone 90 minutes. They weren't, though, and the Baggies had Foster to thank for it.
The 29-year-old was irresistible at Stamford Bridge, pulling off save after save to keep his team in it. On another afternoon and against another goalkeeper, Chelsea would have scored more than one, but on Saturday they were left frustrated.
He was on the losing side, but Foster will feel he won on a personal level on Saturday.
Oscar Is Vital to Chelsea's End-of-Season Run
Rafa Benitez may have preferred Victor Moses over Oscar when he first came in as Chelsea manager, but the Spaniard appears unable to resist his talents any longer.
Enjoying more football in the past few weeks—namely due to Moses absence at the Africa Cup of Nations—Oscar has returned to his influential best after a dip in form.
Against West Bromwich Albion, the Brazilian could have scored his first Chelsea hat-trick had he not come up against an inspired Ben Foster (see Slide 4).
With him beginning to fire on cylinders, Oscar is going to be vital to Chelsea as they bid to secure Champions League football next term, let alone challenge for the Europa League and FA Cup.
As we approach of change of seasons in the weather, is this a spring of new hope for Chelsea?
West Brom Cannot Control Demba Ba
In five games against West Bromwich Albion in his two years in England, Demba Ba has scored six goals. Every player has the team they enjoy playing against the most, and for the Senegalese, the Baggies very much appear to be it.
His goal at Stamford Bridge on Saturday gave Chelsea three points and continued his excellent run against the Hawthorns club.
Back in February 2011 Ba scored twice to secure a point for West Ham, while he scored another two for Newcastle United when the Magpies lost 3-2 at St. James' Park last term.
Ba scored against the Baggies when they returned to the North East in October this season, this time helping his team to a 2-1 win, bringing his tally against West Brom to five.
With Saturday's outing increasing that to six, it also means Ba has scored more goals against the Baggies than he has any other Premier League club.
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