The least one expects from any team, let alone one that this week took their spending for the window beyond £200m, is desire. Chelsea showed that here, along with a belated smattering of quality, to save face and salvage a point after practically giving away three goals.
In the first half Frank Lampard’s team were wasteful up front and truly rubbish at the back and looked set to be humiliated by the Premier’s League supposed whipping boys. For a long time West Brom, well organised and clinical, offered a perfect contrast to ramshackle visitors, with Callum Robinson scoring twice and Kyle Bartley adding a third to send the hosts in at half-time with a three‑goal lead.
Chelsea improved sufficiently after the break to draw level thanks to goals by a trio of homegrown players, Mason Mount and Callum Hudson-Odoi finding the net before Tammy Abraham struck in stoppage time.
The only change Bilic was able to make from the 5-2 defeat by Everton was to draft in Conor Townsend for the suspended Kieran Gibbs. Compare that with Lampard’s de luxe options: he gave a start here, and the captaincy, to Thiago Silva, for whom the trip to the Hawthorns turned out to be clumsy first steps in his attempt to add a Premier League title to the 18 trophies he won with Paris Saint-Germain.
Lampard also elected to consign the world’s most expensive goalkeeper, Kepa Arrizabalaga, to the bench even though Édouard Mendy, the £22m replacement signed from Rennes this week, was not ready for a debut. Willy Caballero began in goal instead, leaving Arrizabalaga to wonder if last week’s blunder against Liverpool was the last he will ever be allowed to make for Chelsea. His absence certainly did not spell the end of his side’s mistakes.
The visitors helped West Brom to take the lead after just four minutes. Marcos Alonso was the chief culprit, heading the ball straight to Matheus Pereira, who slipped a clever pass through to Robinson, who fired a shot from the left-hand corner of the area beyond Caballero.
Alonso goofed again two minutes later when he pulled back Semi Ajayi and got a booking as, perhaps, Lampard mentally sent another “Get well soon” card to Ben Chilwell.
Chelsea created chances after that but their finishing was slipshod, with Abraham and Timo Werner missing clear chances.
Just as it seemed as if West Brom might buckle, Chelsea fell apart again. This time the blunder came from Silva, who inexplicably lost control of the ball in his own half, allowing Robinson to run through and finish emphatically.
West Brom were not sated, and why would they be when Chelsea’s incompetence amounted to an invitation to attack? They made it 3-0 before the half-hour thanks to a cleverly worked corner-kick routine that culminated with the unmarked and onside Bartley guiding the ball into the net from six yards.
It would have been ludicrous for Lampard not to make changes at half-time. He duly put Alonso out of the team’s misery by introducing César Azpilicueta and also sent on Hudson-Odoi for Kovacic, adjusting the team’s shape. The visitors dominated after the break but lacked the inventiveness to find a way through the vigilant hosts until the 55th minute. Mount circumvented West Brom’s defence by unloading a swerving shot from 25 yards. Sam Johnstone seemed bewildered as the ball flew into the net.
Kai Havertz, like Werner, showed little of the menace that persuaded Chelsea to fork out such a high fee for him but then, in the 70th minute, he played a one-two with Hudson-Odoi before the England winger finished smartly to make it 3-2.
West Brom were denied the three points in stoppage time when Johnstone could only paw Mount’s shot to his right, leaving Abraham with a simple finish to claim a point for Chelsea.
“I have mixed emotions,” said Lampard. “I was happy to see the team fight until the last minute but I have to go back to the beginning and not be happy with the fact that we’ve conceded three goals.
“It’s hard to absolutely pinpoint [the reasons for the mistakes]. They are what they are. There’s an element where it’s going to be a settle down process because we haven’t had much time to work and bed down new players.”