Perhaps it was inevitable that Thomas Tuchel’s unbeaten start would end at the hands of Sam Allardyce. After introducing order during his first months at Chelsea, Tuchel watched everything come crashing down against a manager who loves nothing more than proving his tactical worth against foreign coaches with lofty reputations.
This was the Premier League at its unruly, barmy, utterly illogical best. Consider the bare facts. Chelsea came into this game protecting a 14-game unbeaten run and expected to take another step towards qualifying for the Champions League. West Brom, who had won two of Allardyce’s first 16 games in charge, had already been written off as relegation certainties.
Everything changed in the space of 90 minutes. Chelsea could have no complaints after being outmanoeuvred by Allardyce, the Premier League’s greatest survival expert, and will slide out of the top four if Tottenham win at Newcastle on Sunday or West Ham win at Wolves on Monday. They were a shambles in every department and West Brom punished their flaws, responding to Christian Pulisic’s undeserved opener and rising seven points behind 17th-placed Newcastle thanks to an inspired performance from Matheus Pereira.
This was not just about Thiago Silva’s red card in the 29th minute. Although West Brom’s five goals came against 10 men, Chelsea were uncomfortable before losing Silva. Rather than viewing the Brazilian’s dismissal as an isolated moment of misfortune, Tuchel admitted that it was the consequence of Chelsea’s struggles with and without the ball.
Tuchel could see the warning signs from the start, flinging his arms in the air as Chelsea struggled with West Brom’s pressing. Normally so composed in his quarterback role, Jorginho ended up posing more of a danger to his own team than the opposition. The midfielder’s passing was off and he was involved in one of the game’s key moments when he gifted possession to Pereira, who beat Kurt Zouma before being pulled down by Silva on the edge of the area.
It was a sluggish challenge from Silva, who was starting for the first time since 4 February after recovering from a groin injury, and the veteran was lucky that the VAR did not upgrade his yellow card for denying a goalscoring opportunity.
Chelsea looked unfocused, distracted, playing aimlessly until Pulisic won a free-kick in the 27th minute. Marcos Alonso whipped it over the wall and although Sam Johnstone tipped the ball on to the left post, Pulisic darted on to the rebound to claim his first goal since 5 December.
That ought to have been the cue for Chelsea, who face Porto in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final on Wednesday, to relax. Yet they imploded two minutes later, offering West Brom a chance to attack with more sloppiness. The ball broke to Okay Yokuslu and Silva came steaming in after the Turkish midfielder had fired over, earning a second yellow.
Tuchel adjusted after going down to 10 men, removing Hakim Ziyech and bringing Andreas Christensen into the back three. Chelsea tried to use the pace of Timo Werner and Pulisic on the break and they threatened in bursts, Johnstone twice denying Reece James.
Yet Chelsea, who had conceded two goals in Tuchel’s first 14 games, forgot how to defend. After starting in a 5-4-1 system Allardyce was able to make an attacking change when Branislav Ivanovic twanged a hamstring 13 minutes after replacing the injured Dara O’Shea. Although Ivanovic was disappointed to limp off against his old club, the 37-year-old’s withdrawal allowed Allardyce to introduce another attacker, Callum Robinson.
West Brom had more options in the final third and they equalised when Zouma misjudged a long punt from Johnstone in first-half added time. Pereira ran behind the Chelsea defender before lobbing Édouard Mendy.
Chelsea were in disarray, escaping when Matt Phillips chipped against the bar, and there was time for West Brom to score again before the interval. Again it was Pereira who inflicted the damage, dancing into space in the area before aiming a composed low shot past Mendy.
Tuchel tried to rouse his team by introducing Mason Mount at half-time. Yet while Kovacic whistled a drive over, West Brom maintained their composure. They kept attacking and pulled clear in the 63rd minute, Robinson brilliantly volleying in Darnell Furlong’s cross.
West Brom were not done there, adding a fourth when Mbaye Diagne finished off a flowing move. Mount responded, tapping in after good work from Werner, but Robinson had the final say, dinking over Mendy in added time to complete Chelsea’s humiliation. Allardyce, who has never been relegated from the top flight, could celebrate a famous win.