No matter what the outcome of today’s home fixture against Chelsea, West Ham will sit in one of the three relegation places at the end of this weekend’s set of fixtures. There is even a reasonable chance that, with Swansea hosting West Bromwich Albion, the Hammers could end up rock bottom should David Moyes fail to secure his first win as West Ham manager.
Although Chelsea are reigning Champions, the prospect of a game against their current side should not be regarded as overly daunting; they are far from unbeatable. But to stop Chelsea you need to stop Eden Hazard, a player who has had a hand in seven of the last eight goals that his team have scored past the Hammers. Having watched Chelsea’s game last week at home to Newcastle everything revolved around Hazard and Kante. Between them they picked up nearly every loose ball and moved it quickly and intelligently forward. The challenge for West Ham is whether they can demonstrate the competency and discipline to stem this tide without giving away free-kicks in dangerous positions or even worse penalties. A strategy of conceding possession might be a dangerous game to play in the circumstances but a player with the ability to man-mark Hazard is not someone available in the Hammer’s squad.
The commitment shown in last week’s display at Manchester City would be welcome again today and if the effort of the players can get a response from a passionate crowd then West Ham do have the capacity to unsettle the visitors.
Head to Head
In the pre-rouble era this was an evenly contested affair where West Ham even held a slight advantage; but the tables have been totally turned over recent years with Chelsea now holding a ten win margin in the 108 games played. West Ham have, however, managed to record three wins (seven defeats) in the last twelve home and away encounters in all competitions.
The Hammers have won twenty-seven (lost twenty) of the fifty-five home fixtures against the west Londoners while only eight have ended all square.
West Ham sit proudly atop the Physio Room Premier League injured table although which players are available this afternoon is far from uncertain. It is reported that Jose Fonte, Sam Byram and James Collins are definitely out but others including Javier Hernandez, Winston Reid, Mark Noble and Andy Carroll may all be in the squad. Watching Cheikhou Kouyate hobble off last weekend it would be a surprise if he made it into the starting line-up which may give Noble a route back in.
It looks like Adrian will rightly retain the keeper’s shirt (and shorts hopefully) and there could well be one or two other changes from the team that started at the Etihad. How the team looks may well depend on the extent of Moyes attacking ambition or if stifling Chelsea is taken as the primary objective.
Chelsea are without the superficially impressive David Luiz and workmanlike Danny Drinkwater but unfortunately there are no injury concerns over Eden Hazard.
Man In The Middle
A first meeting of the season today with Anthony Taylor from Cheshire. Taylor was referee for four West Ham games last season including away defeats at Chelsea (where he failed to send off match-winner Diego Costa), Everton and Leicester. He was also in charge for the Hammers heroic win over Tottenham Hotspur last May.
His record to date this term is thirteen games with fifty-two yellows but yet to get off the red card mark. Watch this space.
The BBC’s Lawro has been kind to us once more this week and is predicting a 1-1 stalemate. Sky’s Merson on the other hand is going for a 1-3 Hammer’s defeat.
I was badly (and encouragingly) wrong on a feared Manchester City landslide last week and much will depend on whether there is now some traction towards consistent improvement or whether performances will continue to fluctuate up and down. In the interests of positivity I will back West Ham for a nail-biting 1-0 victory.