Chelsea entertain West Ham United in the first game on Boxing day and it promises to be an intriguing encounter as both sides have had impressive campaigns so far and will want to stay where they are.
Last time the two sides met, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho accused West Ham of playing ’19th-century football’ after Sam Allardyce’s side took a very defensive approach in the 0-0 draw that transpired at Stamford Bridge. This time, it could get even more harder as the Hammers have even better defensively this season compared to the last campaign as they have conceded just 19 goals and find themselves in the top four; the first time since 1985.
Chelsea have won their last two games in the league after the defeat to Newcastle and have done so without playing at their best. Mourinho’s men beat Stoke City in their last game and made it look really easy despite playing at the Britannia. West Ham could provide a sterner test for them, but looking at their record at Stamford Bridge, the hosts will definitely start as favourites.
West Ham players and fans will delighted with their current form as they have surprised everyone with their performances. Allardyce signed a few players in the summer and they have had a major impact on the team, none more so than Diafra Sakho. They sit fourth in the league and are ahead of their opponents in terms of form table.
Team News And Tactics
The only concern for Chelsea will be Eden Hazard’s ankle injury that he picked up in his side’s last game against Stoke City. The Belgian had revealed yesterday that he will be able to play against West Ham, but considering the run of games in the next week, it’s unlikely that Hazard will be risked, even more so when Mourinho has quality replacements on the bench.
The Portuguese has gone with a 4-2-3-1 formation so far this season with Nemanja Matic and Fabregas usually deployed as the central midfielders. Matic plays a defensive role while Fabregas’ duty is that of a deep-lying playmaker. Mourinho went with Matic and Mikel in front of the defense against Stoke in order to counter their physicality, but could drop Mikel this time for Fabregas to play a deeper role.
Brazilian creative midfielder Oscar will be expected to play behind Diego Costa after being rested in the last game. With Hazard’s injury, German international Andre Schurrle could feature on the left-hand side. The 24-year old has seen limited game time this season due to Hazard’s form and the presence of better strikers at the club. He has made just 12 appearances in the league so far and most of them have been from the bench. Willian is expected to occupy the other flank.
Chelsea’s defense has looked really good this season as Gary Cahill has carried his good from last season and has formed a formidable partnership with club captain John Terry. With Matic’s excellent form, the duo have had less work to do, but that could chance against West Ham as the likes of Andy Carroll and Diafra Sakho have the pace and strength to trouble any defence. Cesar Azpilicueta could be given a rest and we might see Filipe Luis in the left back position with Branislav Ivanovic occupying the other full back position.
Probable starting XI: Courtois; Ivanović, Cahill, Terry, Filipe Luís; Fabregas, Matić; Willian, Oscar, Schürrle; Costa.
West Ham have been brilliant this season and part of the reason why is a good summer transfer window. Diafra Sakho and Alex Song have been West Ham’s best players this season as they are central to the attacking and defensive solidity. After some shrewd signings in the summer, Allardyce has shown how good a manager he is by using different formations which have suited his side perfectly.
West Ham have played with a midfield diamond against sides that possess pace and played with 4-2-3-1 formation against teams that try to play possession football. Against Chelsea, he could go with the latter as it’s likely that the blues will see most of the ball. Song and Cheikhou Kouyate will play infront of the defense. The duo have excellent physical presence and can make a tackle or two when required. James Tomkins could feature in the game alongside Winston Reid despite picking up a knock in the last game. Kevin Nolan is expected to play in front of the duo. Aaron Cresswell and Carl Jenkinson will occupy the full back positions. Cresswell’s arrival has solved West Ham’s problematic left-back position as the former Ipswich man has been excellent in both defending and going forward.
Former Liverpool pair Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing will be part of a front three with the other being Sakho. Carroll has had a decent few games after returning from a long-term injury although most of the limelight has been hogged by Sakho who has seven goals in 11 appearances and is his side’s top goal getter.
Probable starting XI: Adrian; Jenkinson, Tomkins, Reid, Cresswell; Song, Kouyate, Nolan; Downing, Andy Carroll, Sakho.
- Sam Allardyce is yet to beat Jose Mourinho and has a record of three draws and five losses against the Portuguese.
- West Ham have won four games in their last five matches and lie ahead of Chelsea in the form table (if the last six games are considered).
- Chelsea had 39 shots in the sides’ last meeting at the Stamford Bridge but couldn’t find the back of the net.
- Chelsea have won 12 and lost just one of the last 16 matches against West Ham in the Premier League.
Players to watch out for
Nemanja Matic: The Serbian put in an excellent display against Stoke. He recorded nine tackles in the game and kept thwarting the Potters in the final third with his excellent positioning and tackling. Against the likes of Carroll and Sakho, he’ll once again have his work cut out.
Diafra Sakho: Since arriving from Metz in the summer, Sakho has been a revelation for the Hammers. With seven goals and two assists to his name, he has been their best attacking player. Pace, aerial threat, physicality, and finishing; the 25-year old has it all and will be a handful for the likes of Matic, Cahill, and Terry.
Despite some strong performances by West Ham this season, it’s likely that they’ll fall short this time against Chelsea. With better players, West Ham might go with a more adventurous approach, which could help Chelsea compared to the last time when West Ham played very defensively.
Score: Chelsea 2-0 West Ham