The FourFourTwo Preview: West Ham vs Chelsea
A role reversal: West Ham continue their Premier League title charge, Chelsea attempt to clamber into the top half of the table.
WEST HAM FORM
- Palace 1-3 West Ham (Prem)
- S'land 2-2 West Ham (Prem)
- West Ham 2-2 Norwich (Prem)
- Leicester e2-1 West Ham (LC)
- Man City 1-2 West Ham (Prem)
- D Kiev 0-0 Chelsea (CL)
- Chelsea 2-0 Villa (Prem)
- Chelsea 1-3 So'ton (Prem)
- Porto 2-1 Chelsea (CL)
- Newcastle 2-2 Chelsea (Prem)
One step forward, two steps back. That is the pattern that Chelsea’s season has followed thus far; every hint of a turnaround followed by another dispiriting setback.
The performance in last weekend’s 2-0 defeat of Aston Villa was far from perfect, but the Blues never really looked like losing at Stamford Bridge. Diego Costa announced his return to Premier League action with a brace, the excellent Willian again impressed and an oft-criticised defensive unit recorded only a second clean sheet of the league campaign.
Hopes of building on that triumph with a victory in Europe were dashed on Tuesday, however, as Chelsea laboured to a goalless draw in Ukraine against Dynamo Kiev.
It was another flat performance from Jose Mourinho’s side, who created little of note and were left rueing the non-award of a penalty as one of their best chances of finding the back of the net.
Indeed, it's the front of the team that looks weakest at the moment. Chelsea were generally solid against Sergei Rebrov’s outfit, with Nemanja Matic back to his very best as the midfield anchor, but Mourinho will be concerned at the lack of spark and inventiveness going forward.
A large proportion of the Blues' goals this year have come from set-pieces, long-range strikes or defensive mistakes; they're simply not fashioning enough opportunities in general play, something that drastically needs to be fixed if they are to finally turn the corner.
Given their opponents’ problems, then, West Ham may fancy their chances of another three points on Saturday afternoon.
It has been a dream first quarter of the campaign for the Hammers, who find themselves in fourth place after nine games and just four points off the summit.
Those who scoffed at the fans’ pining for the ‘West Ham way’ are being made to eat their words: under the guidance of former defender Slaven Bilic, the East Londoners have married attractive football with positive results thanks to flair players Dimitri Payet, Manuel Lanzini and Victor Moses all thriving at their new home.
The one negative so far has been their form at Upton Park, with just one of their five successes coming in E13. Bournemouth, Leicester and Norwich have all left this part of the capital with a share of the spoils, and Chelsea may actually be grateful that they are facing their London rivals away from Stamford Bridge.
Loic Remy and Pedro, who both missed the trip to Kiev after picking up knocks, are hoping to be fit for Chelsea, but Branislav Ivanovic and Thibaut Courtois remain sidelined. Eden Hazard, dropped by Mourinho against Villa game due to a perceived lack of defensive work and tactical discipline, will hope to start.
West Ham are likely to be without centre-back Winston Reid for the second week running, with Joey O’Brien and Alex Song also missing and loanee Moses ineligible against his parent club.
Key battle: Dimitri Payet vs Azpilicueta or Zouma
Payet has enjoyed a terrific start to life in England, with his delicate dinked finish in the 3-1 win at Crystal Palace last weekend his fifth goal in the Premier League since moving to the Boleyn Ground from Marseille.
Cesar Azpilicueta reverted to his natural position on the right side of the defence against Villa in Ivanovic’s absence, but it was Kurt Zouma who filled the slot in Kiev. Regardless of who is given the nod on Saturday, they will have their hands full trying to keep the Frenchman quiet.
Payet, who has three assists in nine appearances and has laid on more chances (39) for his team-mates than any other Premier League player, likes to drift infield and get involved in the build-up, so Chelsea’s right-back will have to carefully work out when to track his runs and when to pass him on to a colleague.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- W Ham 0-1 Chelsea (PL, Mar 15)
- Chelsea 2-0 W Ham (PL, Dec 14)
- Chelsea 0-0 W Ham (PL, Jan 14)
- W Ham 0-3 Chelsea (PL, Nov 13)
- Chelsea 2-0 W Ham (PL, Mar 13)
Mourinho’s public criticism of Hazard in his press conference after the defeat of Villa was just the latest example of a clash between the manager and a fellow Chelsea employee this season.
All does not seem well with the Portuguese at present, with Mourinho noticeably tetchy and cantankerous as he finds himself under increasing pressure to turn the Blues’ fortunes around.
His opposite number Bilic has no such worries, with West Ham six points ahead of the champions going into this London derby.
The appointment of a man with no managerial experience in the Premier League was seen as a risk by many, but the Croatian may be beginning to wonder whether he can lead the Hammers into Europe – via their standing in the actual table rather than the Fair Play variant – in their final season at Upton Park.
Facts and figures
- Chelsea have conceded a league-high 5 headed goals in the Premier League in 2015/16.
- West Ham have won just 1 of their last 18 Premier League London derbies against Chelsea (W1 D3 L14).
Chelsea have not conceded a single goal in any of their last 5 Premier League matches against the Hammers; last conceding in a 3-1 defeat in 2012.
An entertaining draw. 2-2.