Antonio Conte was probably unaware of the significance of the tie when fixture lists were released this summer. A trip up the M1 to the Hawthorns in November wouldn't have been the standout date in his calendar. In a month when Chelsea faces Manchester United and Liverpool, West Brom looked like the least of the Italian’s problems.
But given the history between the two, maybe he should be a little worried. Sure, anytime a team like Chelsea prepares to take on a resolute West Brom team coached by Tony Pulis, it will have to earn its victory. But Conte will have happy memories of his last visit. In May, his team secured the Premier League title on a Friday night in the Midlands. But for some of his predecessors, losses to the Baggies have proved to be the twilight of their career at Chelsea.
In March 2012, a scrappy, late Gareth McAuley goal defeated Andre Villas-Boas’s Chelsea at the Hawthorns. Just 24 hours later, the club’s owner, Roman Abramovich, sacked the Portuguese coach after just one win in seven games. Roberto Di Matteo stepped up, promoted from assistant coach to interim manager.
Of course, Di Matteo’s impact on the club will forever be etched into its history. His goals as a player secured two FA Cup trophies but, more importantly, his management saw the club win its first and only Champions League silverware—the trophy Abramovich truly pined for as owner.
Such success still bought Di Matteo little time. He took his Chelsea team to the Hawthorns on November 17, 2012, just five months after winning the European Cup, and lost 2-1 to the Baggies. It was the last Premier League game he oversaw for Chelsea, as Abramovich sacked him four days later after the team lost 3-0 to Juventus in the Champions League group stage.
José Mourinho's Chelsea was also embarrassed 3-0 at the Hawthorns in May 2015 but had already won the Premier League title. Seven months later, after a bad run following the trip to West Brom, Mourinho was out.
Will the tie prove fatal for Conte? All the noise around Stamford Bridge now is that the Italian’s future looks less than certain at Chelsea. A power play over the summer saw him fall out with key figures in the hierarchy in west London, with some reports in Spain suggesting Abramovich was ready to wield the axe.
Conte has driven forward regardless. His players clearly still believe in him and his methods, compounded by the 1-0 win over title rival Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. Conte outwitted his predecessor Mourinho; Chelsea would be foolish to let him go.
And, subject to an injury-free international break, Conte’s team will be approaching full fitness once again. He has Álvaro Morata back scoring goals and N’Golo Kanté back from injury and marshaling the midfield. At full strength, Chelsea looks like a force again in the Premier League.
Conte will go into the game at the Hawthorns just one point behind second-place Manchester United. Optimism has returned to west London, but he should beware the curse of the Hawthorns.