The battle of Slaven Biridge.
Last time West Ham arrived at Stamford Bridge above Chelsea in the league, their centre-forward was Lee Chapman. That was March 26, 1994; Chelsea have had the better in most of the intervening 22 seasons – but not this time.
Having walked the league last season, the Blues imploded and called upon Guus Hiddink for stability. By contrast, the Hammers, steady but unfulfilled under Sam Allardyce, turned to Slaven Bilic for excitement – and have been richly rewarded. Flying high in fifth, they’re only a good weekend off overhauling a Manchester City side concentrating on the Champions League and an Arsenal outfit facing its own existential crisis.
Meantime, the Blues’ season is over in March – out of the FA Cup and Champions League and beached in mid-table, 11 points below the top four and 15 above the drop zone. For all that, there’s not an ocean between the teams – Crisis Club Chelsea have scored 43 league goals to Free-Flowing West Ham’s 45.
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Bilic has bothered Hiddink before: Croatia’s Euro 2012 play-off win over Turkey cost the Dutchman his job, four years after the Croats and Hiddink’s Russia combined to bar Steve McClaren’s England from the Euros – and three years after Bilic was tipped to follow Hiddink’s first managerial cameo at the Bridge.
Thoroughly enjoying their Farewell-To-Boleyn season, West Ham are top of the overall form table but their away success has dropped off a cliff: after gaining 13 road points from the first 15, they’ve won just two of the last 10 league trips. Then again, Chelsea – tiptoeing up the table rather than striding up the standings – have drawn five of their last six home league games, and the only Stamford Bridge visitors not to score during Hiddink’s second spell have been Scunthorpe.
Facts and figures
- Chelsea have won 7 and lost 0 of the last 9 Premier League games against West Ham at Stamford Bridge.
- During that 9-game run, the Blues have kept 6 clean sheets and conceded just 3 goals.
- Overall, West Ham have won just 2 of the last 19 Premier League meetings with Chelsea (D3 L14).
- The Blues are unbeaten in 13 Premier League games since Jose Mourinho left (W6 D7), but have only won 2 at home (W2 D5).
- The Hammers have lost just 2 of their last 16 Premier League matches (W7 D7 L2).
- Diego Costa has had a hand in 12 of Chelsea’s 22 Premier League goals since Guus Hiddink took charge of the club (8 goals, 4 assists) – but will be suspended for this match.
- Dimitri Payet has contributed 5 goals and 5 assists in his last 7 West Ham appearances.
- Payet has had a hand in 21 goals this season in all competitions for West Ham (11 goals, 10 assists), 12 more than any other West Ham player.
- Michail Antonio has scored 5 headers from just 5 headed attempts on target in the Premier League this season.
- Chelsea are the only team in the Premier League not to concede a goal inside the opening 15 minutes of a match this season.
Eden Hazard will probably still be out with hip-jip, and Diego Costa is on the naughty step in a Hannibal mask – a blow, considering he’s been involved in more than half of Chelsea’s goals under Hiddink.
After six successive substitute appearances in the league, Andy Carroll had first start in two months in the FA Cup game at Old Trafford – but Diafra Sakho, on as sub in the last three games as he returns to fitness, is pushing to replace Emmanuel Emenike.
Key battle: Jon Obi Mikel vs Dimitri Payet
Jon Obi Mikel is a man reborn under Guus Hiddink. Since coming on at half-time in the Dutchman’s first game, the midfielder has started 13 of the subsequent 17 games (compared to five of Mourinho’s 25 this season), unfussily anchoring the midfield with Nemanja Matic or Cesc Fabregas, to taste.
However, Hiddink may need a particular plan for Payet, who roams between the hole and the wings – especially since Manuel Lanzini’s return sparked a run of four wins in five. The Hammers are at their best when Payet drifts wide to switch with the Argentine winger: does Mikel drift with him, or pass him on?
What won’t happen
As news filters through that Palace have gone in front at home to Leicester, the entire ground unites to sing (to the tune of She’ll Be Coming Round The Mountain) “Oh we hope that Tottenham Hotspur win the league”.
What will happen
When Chelsea go in front after half an hour, Bilic gets a whisper in the ear from baggy-eyed sidekick Nicola Jurcevic; a rejigged Hammers emerge for the second half and earn a deserved point. 1-1.
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