At this stage of the season there are already four Premier League clubs who know their final finishing position. Manchester City and West Bromwich Albion will be first and last respectively, Arsenal will be sixth and Chelsea fifth. Everyone associated with Chelsea also knows that come the start of next season they will have yet another different manager. Even though Roman Abramovich seems to have increasingly lost interest in the project since Chelsea’s Champion’s League success (or perhaps there is no money left to laundered?) he still loves to sack a managers whenever he can. Chelsea, like Arsenal, no longer compete with the Manchester clubs in fanning the wild flames of transfer fee inflation leaving them as big six also-rans with the feel of a famous 1970’s rock band who continue to tour under the same name but with none of the original line-up.
In a quirk of fixture computer fate, Chelsea take on West Ham on the same day that Arsenal face the fellow strugglers, soundly beaten by the Hammers last weekend, Southampton. On paper both would be seen as tough games in the run-in of relegation threatened sides but, in reality, the two once mighty London clubs are left with little to play for as far as the Premier League is concerned. The papers may be full of stirring claims that Chelsea will be desperate to bounce back from last week’s defeat at the hands of Tottenham but transferring that spirit of enthusiasm to the most typical band of fickle West-End mercenaries may be more of a challenge. In short, taking a point or more from this game is more than possible for the Hammers.
If West Ham are no longer everyone’s second club, playing a brand of football the way it is meant to be played, there is one tradition that has been maintained throughout Hammer’s history – inconsistency. On the evidence of last week the Cockney Boys should be going into the game with their tails up and full of confidence. I’m sure that many supporters have a sense, even if they don’t want to say it out loud, that today could be one of those days where the return journey on the eastbound District Line is a happy one where the blue flag has been well and truly inserted where it belongs. The secret fear, however, is that rather than starting where they left off last week it will be one of those timid and lethargic displays that all too often follow an encouraging win.
Head to Head
West Ham’s recent overall record against Chelsea is probably as good as it gets against top six sides showing four wins from the last twelve encounters. It is not such a good picture, however, when you look at away games only. The Hammers have won none of the last twelve and the last manager to win at Stamford Bridge was Glenn Roeder in September 2002.
Every West Ham player put in a good performance and received wisdom in such situations is not to change a winning team. Even a half-hearted Chelsea will offer more of a challenge than Southampton did and their greatest threat has traditionally been the dribbling and diving of Eden Hazard; if he can be bothered this afternoon. If Hazard does turn up then strength (without reckless challenges) in the centre of the Hammer’s midfield will be crucial. If James Collins is fit there could be a case for deploying Declan Rice in midfield but the question is who would make way?
Manuel Lanzini returns to the squad this afternoon but would expect him to start on the bench with Moyes sticking to the Marko Arnautovic/ Joao Mario partnership that rattled the Saints last time out.
Chelsea are likely to have Courtois and Pedro available and I am hoping that Conte decides to play Pedro rather than the want-away Willian, a player that I admire greatly.
Man in The Middle
Kevin Friend from Leicestershire is today’s match-day referee. Friend has two previous West Ham games under his belt this season – the home league win over Huddersfield and the EFL Cup exit at Arsenal. His season record is fifty-one yellows and one red from twenty-eight games.
Both Merson and Lawro have predicted 2-0 home wins for the game. It is about time the Hammers had some joy at Stamford Bridge although we were clearly cheated out of three points by some typically terrible Robert ‘Bobby’ Madely refereeing in March 2016. In a fit of optimism I am banking on West Ham sneaking it over a listless Chelsea with a Di Canio emulating brace from Arnautovic.