It is surprising the extent to which a good result at the weekend can play in creating a positive impact on your life – or at least that portion of it that is devoted to football. Post-match euphoria has a long half-life and can easily be topped-up as with repeated highlight watching and mutual social media backslapping. The warm glow of victory can be comfortably felt for the remainder of the week albeit with the potentially dangerous side effect of unrealistically raised expectations.
The visit of Chelsea to the east-end is always one of the most eagerly anticipated games of the season and, with the added incentive of derailing the visitors 100% perfect start to the season, there is plenty at stake. Despite the west Londoners having bossed encounters in recent history, following the injection of Roman’s dodgy roubles, a West Ham victory today would even-up the all-time record at 57 wins apiece.
It is a surprise to see Chelsea (once again under new management) start the season so positively although, with the exception of a visit by Arsenal, they have been favoured by a relatively benign set of opening fixtures. Still their confidence will be on a high having also successfully come through a midweek European gimme in Salonika. If only they had a half decent striker they might well be offering serious competition to Manchester City and Liverpool in this season’s title race.
Chelsea’s undoubted strength is in the midfield areas where they look particularly formidable. The introduction of Jorginho alongside Kante provides more energy than a whole box of Duracel batteries combined and allows Hazard and Willian the freedom to menace opposition defences at will. Hazard can divide opinion among fans of other clubs but, for me, he is one of the best and most creative players currently turning out in the Premier League. Clipping his wings will be key to any West Ham’s success today.
I can’t see Manuel Pellegrini making any discretionary changes to his starting lineup after last week’s win at Everton – the fitness of Marko Arnautovic being the greatest concern and still uncertain. I have read others suggesting changes to either full-back (Ryan Fredericks in for Pablo Zabaleta or Aaron Cresswell in for Arthur Masuaku) and even, bizarrely, those recommending a place for Carlos Sanchez at the expense of Mark Noble. I am no great supporter of the 2018 model skipper but did they they not witness Sanchez disastrous short suicidal cameo last weekend?
There may be a case for changing the full-back slots where Zabaleta and Cresswell edge it defensively but fall shorter on attacking threat. Both Fredericks and Masuaku can be electric going forward, but it depends to what extent formation and set-up allows that to happen. This aside, and at the risk of projecting previous West Ham manager behaviours onto Pellegrini, I am confident he will not change a winning team and will stick with his latest preferred formation until its weaknesses become exposed. The main apparent weakness being too much space left on the flanks for opponents to exploit when attacking.
Much will depend today on how effectively the midfield three of Declan Rice, Pedro Obiang and Noble acquit themselves; and the way in which they are deployed. Last week Rice did a great job of tracking the runs of Sigurdsson and he may well be given a similar responsibility with Hazard today. That will require Noble and Obiang to keep busy in covering the flanks and getting forward to support the front players wherever possible.
Fitness permitting, I look forward to seeing the front three of Felipe Anderson, Andriy Yarmolenko and Arnautovic pick up where they left off last week; putting plenty of pressure on the visitor’s defence. I have never really seen the value of David Luiz and believe he can be bullied and forced into mistakes when pressed – critically this depends on the availability of Arnie. If the Austrian is not passed fit I suppose the replacement would need to be Lucas Perez – assuming he is warmed up in time!
There can be no real debate concerning the keeper and centre backs with the current incumbents each having performed admirably in recent games, even if the goals against tally suggests otherwise. West Ham should have particularly high hopes for Issa Diop who looks like he will be a great signing even though his performances will ultimately attract the attention of more successful sides. To think it could have been Alfie Mawson in the back four!
Today’s referee is Mike Dean from The Wirral known for his exuberant celebration of Tottenham goals. Dean is always a little card happy and it would be no surprise if there were fewer than twenty-two players on the pitch come the final whistle.
This afternoon sees the return to West Ham of former manager Gianfranco Zola. The affable and grinning Italian has an undistinguished managerial career, following his time at Upton Park, but now finds himself in an assistant coaching role in West London.
There is a difference of opinion between the much loved pundits this week with Merson opting for a Hazard inspired 3-1 Chelsea win but Lawro going out on an uncharacteristic limb with a 2-1 West Ham success. One might conclude that it is a case of wishful Lawro thinking and that his motivation for the result is that it would benefit his beloved Scousers. Personally, I think that there is a very high chance that the Hammers will not get beaten this afternoon and pick up their first home league point of the season. Whether it is all three and another week of glorious football well-being or whether we will have to settle for just a share is hard to call. Naturally, a win would satisfy my raised expectations but feel a draw is the most likely outcome. As long as it accompanied by more signs of improved performances and greater understanding then I would reluctantly take that.