It is hardly a surprise that the air turned blue in the Chelsea dressing room. This was a fourth successive Premier League match without a win and prompted fresh questions, as well as a few choice words, about the reasons for Chelsea's annual collapse at the first sign of a cold snap. "That's fucking rubbish" was overheard being shouted in a frank exchange of views during the post-match inquest. "It is normal," David Luiz said, when asked about the raised voices. "This is a big club, and in a big club you cannot lose games."
Roberto Di Matteo needs no telling that is the case, which is why the Chelsea manager is taking evasive action at the earliest opportunity to prevent a damaging run of results from turning into something more sinister. The flamboyant football which served Chelsea so well earlier in the season, when they blazed a trail at the top of the table, looks like going into hibernation for a period, in favour of a more defensive approach, probably in the form of a 4-3-3 formation that turns into 4-5-1 without the ball.
Chelsea have gone nine games without a clean sheet and conceded 18 goals in the process, which would be a dreadful record at any time of the season but leaves the European champions looking particularly vulnerable ahead of a daunting week. Di Matteo's side take on Juventus in Turin on Tuesday, where a defeat against the Serie A leaders would severely jeopardise their chances of reaching the knockout stage of the Champions League, before welcoming Manchester City, the Premier League leaders, to Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
John Terry's absence has clearly hurt Chelsea – the four-match ban the former England captain received for racially abusing Anton Ferdinand, allied to the injury he picked up against Liverpool, means he has only been on the pitch when three of those 18 goals have been conceded – and this was another occasion when David Luiz demonstrated why he cannot be considered a reliable replacement.
Only the Brazilian knows what he was doing when he allowed the outstanding Shane Long, who ran Chelsea's defence ragged at times, to get away from him before heading home James Morrison's centre for West Bromwich Albion's opening goal. The defending was not much better on Albion's second, when Long drifted out wide before delivering a fine cross that Peter Odemwingie nodded past Petr Cech, after getting in front of Ryan Bertrand, to restore the home team's advantage following Eden Hazard's headed equaliser.
Di Matteo, however, refused to point the finger of blame and claimed the responsibility for such poor concessions was collective. "I don't think it is just an individual issue, I think as a team we have to be better defending," he said. "You don't defend with one player, you defend with the whole team, like you want your whole team helping when you are attacking as well. It is a defensive organisation on the pitch that we need to look at and maybe I have to do some changes."
One of them could be up front. Against Albion, Fernando Torres was peripheral, to the point that it felt like Chelsea were playing with 10 men until Di Matteo hauled the £50m striker off in the second half. Although Daniel Sturridge failed to take any of the chances that came his way when he was deployed further forward, the England international at least carried a threat. The long-term solution to the striking problem appears to be signing Atlético Madrid's Radamel Falcao, but in the short term Di Matteo must decide whether he can afford to persevere with Torres. Asked if he was prepared to drop the Spaniard against Juventus, Di Matteo said: "If I believe it is the right thing to do for the team, then yeah."
As for Albion, the only problem Steve Clarke will have over the coming weeks is dampening expectations. Albion sit fourth in the table and are playing with remarkable self-belief. They have won six out of seven at home in the league and there is no reason to believe the results are a fluke.
Well-drilled defensively, creative in midfield and ruthless on the counter-attack, Clarke's team are a pleasure to watch. "Before this game I asked them a little question," said the Albion head coach. "I said: 'The good start's over; now we've got to build on it.' They gave me a really good answer."
Man of the match: Shane Long (West Bromwich Albion)
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image: © Jason Bagley