Upton Park, London
1st December, 12:45 GMT
West Ham’s last win in the Premier League came against Newcastle United on the 11th of November; since then they have drawn a game against Stoke and lost out to Tottenham and Manchester United. They currently lie 10th in the table having amassed 19 points off 14 games. If the target for the Hammers was to avoid relegation, then Sam Allardyce’s team look well on course to exceed expectations. Even if the table might suggest they could be doing better in certain areas, one cannot forget that this is a team that has just come up from the Championship, and in comparison to Southampton and Reading (who also got promoted this season) West Ham are miles ahead.
Coming off two tough encounters away from home, West Ham would welcome a return to the familiar surroundings of home at Boleyn ground. They’d also be ruing the fact that they couldn’t get anything from Old Trafford despite a typically resilient defensive performance against Manchester United.
Chelsea, on the other hand, are well and truly mired in their traditional winter slump. Their last Premier League victory came against Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane on the 20th of October. In six league games since then Chelsea have lost two and drawn four. But as is the case with the Londoners more often than not, the talk is not merely about their football. The Mark Clattenburg issue notwithstanding, Chelsea sacked Roberto Di Matteo post the humiliating 3 – 0 defeat to Juventus in the Champions League.
If that agitated the fans, the appointment of Rafael Benitez has ensured that the club dominates the back pages for at least the remainder of this season (‘interim’ is the word). Di Matteo was sacked because those at the higher echelons of the power corridors at Stamford Bridge thought he would be unable to stem the rot; the team was leaking goals. Benitez to his credit has bagged two clean sheets in two games for the Blues, but the problem is at the opposite end now, as the new found pragmatism has led to the team just managing 4 shots on goal in a 180 minutes of football against Manchester City and Fulham. All the talk of champagne football seems to be dying a slow death as the team seems to be facing an identity crisis at present.
Given the backdrop, Chelsea look to be more desperate of both teams in their pursuit for a win, however, West Ham will not give an inch at their home ground. There are six top flight clubs based in London this season and that makes this yet another traditional derby. The game is slated to kick off early on Saturday afternoon and needless to say, it’ll make good viewing even for the neutrals.
Team News And Tactical Brief
The Hammers will sense blood going into this game, and given the team ethic they possess, they’re well placed to deny Chelsea a win. If it should be their day, they might even walk away with all three points as there are options for Sam Allardyce to use. Upfront, he could choose between Andy Carroll or Carlton Cole, although it might be difficult to say whom he might choose as Carroll has been a source of trouble for Chelsea in the past but given the need for rotation due to fixtures piling up, he could equally choose to go with Cole up front. Either way West Ham possess a threat as Cole too, being an ex-Chelsea player who will be keen to do well should he be selected.
It is the West Ham midfield that is going to prove tougher for Chelsea to negate. With Mark Noble and Mohamed Diame sitting in front of the defence, West Ham will hope to offer solid resistance against Chelsea’s inventive attacking machinery. Kevin Nolan is again a typical Sam Allardyce player who doesn’t shirk hard work and will ensure that he covers a lot of ground. West Ham also have the option of playing James Tomkins in midfield who looked very tidy against Manchester United at Old Trafford. In defence, they are likely to go with the players who played against Manchester United. Ricardo Vaz Te (shoulder), Alou Diarra (thigh) and Jack Collison (knee) are all out and Yossi Benayoun will miss the game as he is on loan at West Ham from Chelsea.
Probable Starting Line Up – Jussi Jaaskelainen, Guy Demel, Winston Reid, James Collins, Joey O’Brien, Mark Noble, Mohamed Diame, Kevin Nolan, Matt Jarvis, Matthew Taylor, Andy Carroll.
Rafael Benitez has made a few alterations tactically to the Chelsea set up. The free flowing triumvirate of Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar have been asked to keep the interchanging to a bare minimum in a bid to retain discipline when they find themselves without the ball. Their game against Fulham also saw Chelsea systematically press their opponents from the front with the players trying to win the ball in higher areas. The idea is to facilitate quicker transitions from defence to attack as a direct style of play also suits Chelsea’s principle protagonist (his form doesn’t matter, the attention is always there) – Fernando Torres – fairly well. The team is still very cautious when trying to press, which is perhaps a good thing as recklessness invariably caused gaps to open up in the past, gaps that were duly exploited.
Gary Cahill makes a return to the defensive set up as David Luiz is suspended after picking up his fifth yellow card of the season against Fulham. Cezar Azpilicueta has been in wonderful form for Chelsea off late and it also needs to be seen if he’ll get another chance to keep up the good work. Benitez’ preference for rotation is legendary in the footballing world and therefore it is going to be tough to predict the line ups he will be sending out on to the pitch. The game against the Cottagers saw John Obi Mikel and Juan Mata benched, with Marko Marin making a surprise appearance in the dying minutes. With Rafa, we never know what’s in store, and therefore the line up that follows here is a mixture of guesswork and some amount of logic.
Probable Starting Line Up – Petr Cech, Cesar Azpilicueta, Gary Cahill, Branislav Ivanovic, Ashley Cole, Ramires, Obi Mikel, Juan Mata, Oscar, Victor Moses, Fernando Torres.
• West Ham have won 47 per cent of their home games since the beginning of last season.
• The Hammers have not prevented Chelsea from scoring in the last 13 meetings.
• Chelsea have failed to score in any of their last three matches in all competitions.
• The Blues have won the previous three Premier League matches between the two clubs, scoring ten goals and conceding just two.
• Fernando Torres scored his debut goal for Chelsea against the Hammers.
Player To Watch
Jussi Jaaskelainen – The West Ham goalkeeper will have his task cut out with the Chelsea attack throwing the kitchen sink at him in their attempts to score. He’s already made 64 saves in 14 Premier League games this season and will probably be making a few more come Saturday afternoon. The keeper isn’t the best at getting hold of crosses and if the scouts at Chelsea have done their home-work right, they could target the Finn. Crosses from Azpilicueta in particular, could be a constant source of danger for the 37 year old keeper. His distribution, however, is something for Chelsea to note as he’s got a good range as well as the accuracy and helps in initiating counter attacks for the Hammers.
West Ham 1 – 1 Chelsea
Chelsea’s superiority is very much in doubt thanks to the relentlessness of the fixture list and their own form at the moment; add to the fact that the team are adapting to life under Benitez and the possibility of a positive result for the Hammers looks very real indeed. There should be goals in the game, but do both teams have enough about them to find a winner? Guess we’ll know in due time.
Blast From The Past