Can West Ham’s team of many nationalities end Chelsea’s 100% start to the season?

I woke up it was a Chelsea Morning ………….

Well, not quite morning, but an early kick-off nonetheless. We have to leave early on a Sunday morning to watch this game. Chelsea Morning was the title of a song written by Joni Mitchell in 1968. It was initially released as a track on the debut Fairport Convention album that same year, before Mitchell herself released it as a single the following year. Ah, 50 years ago. I am old enough to remember it well.

Coincidentally 50 years ago this very weekend West Ham played Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Hey Jude by the Beatles topped the chart as West Ham came from behind to earn a 1-1 draw in front of a 58,000 crowd. I stood in the Shed as a 14 year-old, not revealing my allegiance to the away team, as I was amongst the home supporters. I had to suppress my excitement as Billy Bonds moved forward with ten minutes to go and found Trevor Brooking on the right. Trevor went to the bye-line and crossed for Martin Peters to head home off the underside of the bar, the ball barely crossing the line, a trick mastered by West Ham in the sixties. Fortunately, although it was many years before goal-line technology was to send a message to the referee’s watch, an alert linesman spotted that the ball was over the line and the game was drawn. This was a good point earned against a Chelsea team who went on to finish fifth at the end of the season (we were eighth).

The game was our tenth league fixture that season and at that stage we had only lost once, 4-1 at home to Everton, who coincidentally are the only team we have actually beaten this season in a league game. The West Ham team that day was full of famous players who played many times in the claret and blue; Ferguson; Bonds, Howe; Peters, Stephenson, Moore; Redknapp, Boyce, Brooking, Hurst, Sissons.

The Chelsea goal in that game was scored by Bobby Tambling, the player who held the Chelsea record for most goals scored (202) before it was overtaken by Frank Lampard. Bobby Tambling was born in 1941 (the same year as our own Bobby Moore), and made his Chelsea debut in February 1959 (two days after my fifth birthday), scoring the winner in a 3-2 victory over (you’ve guessed it) West Ham. Our own Bobby Moore (full name Robert Frederick Chelsea Moore), also made his West Ham debut in the same season, coincidentally also in a 3-2 victory (against Manchester United).

In the same season that Moore and Tambling made their debuts (1958-59), then yet another coincidence, 60 years ago this very weekend West Ham played at home to, you’ve guessed it again, Chelsea. In those free-scoring days we won that match 4-2, to record our fifth win out of nine games played at that stage, to move up to eighth in the table. In the three league games that we’d lost prior to that match, we had conceded four goals in each one, to Luton, Nottingham Forest, and Manchester United. It will be no surprise to learn that by May that year we had scored 85 league goals and conceded 70, to finish sixth in the table in our first season back in the top flight in over a quarter of a century.

Despite an indifferent time last season we took four points off Chelsea, who were the reigning Premier League champions. In the away fixture on 8 April, less than six months ago, Chicarito came on as a substitute with 20 minutes remaining and within three minutes equalised Azpilicueta’s first half goal. Despite that game being so recent, only four players from that day were involved in our win over Everton last Sunday, namely Masuaku, Noble, Rice, and Arnie.

And on 9 December last year we had another early kick off at 12.30 pm on a Saturday lunchtime. Arnie scored his first goal for the club in the sixth minute, and we held on for a nail-biting 1-0 win to record our first victory under David Moyes in his fifth game in charge. A repeat of that scoreline this weekend would be most welcome.

For supporters who like to place a bet on West Ham to win games, then the losses incurred after the first four league games would have been largely wiped out with the win at Goodison Park last Sunday. A win this weekend would put you well in profit as West Ham are around 9/2 and upwards to repeat last December’s victory, and even the odds on a draw at around 7/2 would appeal to some. Of course Chelsea have begun the season with five straight wins in the league, and are tying for top spot with Liverpool, so naturally are hot favourites to win the game. If you think that we can repeat the same score as last season then the odds on 1-0 to us are around 18/1.

If you are looking for an omen, then the last time that Chelsea won their first five games of the season (which was eight years ago when Ancelotti was their manager), they lost their next match by a 1-0 scoreline. But having said that, they have twice (in this century) won their opening six league games, and on both occasions went on to win the title.

Barring any necessary changes for injuries I would expect the same starting line-up this week. Thankfully the manager has finally seemed to realise the necessity for greater strength and mobility in central midfield, and in my opinion the performances of both Obiang and Rice in particular were outstanding against Everton. Why they haven’t been selected to fulfil those roles before now is a mystery to me. Of course Yarmalenko took the headlines, but the front three with Arnie and Anderson added to the Ukrainian, started to show that they can cause problems for opposition defences this season. And our central defensive partnership of Diop and Balbuena could be the first choice for the foreseeable future. I can’t remember a West Ham victory when so many different players were accorded the star rating for the team by various newspaper / media reports of the game. It goes to prove how many of the side had played so well.

At half-time last weekend I was trying to work out in my mind if we were fielding a starting line- up of eleven totally different nationalities. Quite probably the answer is yes, although Diop and Masuaku were both born in France and represented them at lower age levels, but are not full internationals and their allegiances could change. I’m not sure about Obiang either – he has played for Spain at the lower age levels but could still become a full international for Equatorial Guinea. With two of our three substitutes used being Snodgrass (Scotland), and Sanchez (Colombia), we fielded (probably?) thirteen different nationalities in the match, which must be some kind of record? And in addition we have had players from Spain, Italy, and Mexico on the pitch this season, and New Zealand could be added to this list in the future. An interesting comparison can be made with the West Ham team that played against Chelsea 50 years ago which comprised ten Englishmen and a Scotsman. How times have changed!

Fabianski (Poland); Zabaleta (Argentina), Diop (France/Senegal/Morocco), Balbuena (Paraguay), Masuaku (France/DR Congo); Obiang (Spain/Equatorial Guinea), Noble (England), Rice (Ireland), Yarmalenko (Ukraine), Arnautavic (Austria), Anderson (Brazil).

It will be a difficult game against a team in such excellent form, but let’s hope for another fine performance, and perhaps even an end to Chelsea’s unbeaten start to the season. 1-0 again?

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