A Blue Up North previews Chelsea’s home Premier League match against West Ham United.
The Blues may have lost at Manchester City and needed to battle hard to hold on for a draw at Valencia, but Frank Lampard’s team had shown plenty of quality and ability in both matches.
Players like Jorginho, Mateo Kovacic, N’Golo Kante and Kurt Zouma were imperious in both matches, while Christian Pulisic and Reece James had some amazing spells.
But despite having periods of dominance, Chelsea were unable to win either tie. Thanks to a combination of lucky and freak goals, along with some poor defensive play that allowed their opponents to prove their top quality, all their good work was undone.
However, Saturday’s match is a different proposition. The Hammers are going through a very patchy spell. They have not won in their last 7 league matches, and that run includes 5 defeats. This has led to them plummeting down the table and they now sit just outside the relegation zone in 17th.
Manager Manuel Pellegrini has plenty of issues to deal with. It is likely 3rd choice goalkeeper David Martin will make his Premier League debut against The Blues, thanks to Lukasz Fabianski’s injury and Roberto making a string of costly errors.
Big summer signing Sebastien Haller has only scored once in his last 9 appearances, despite scoring 3 goals in his first 3 Premier League appearances.
At the other end, their defence has become very porous. In each of their previous 3 league outings, they have conceded 3 goals and lost each time.
And so a visit to free scoring Chelsea is likely to see a Hammers team focus on tightening the gaps at the back. Add to that they will be missing the creativity of Jack Wilshere and Manuel Lanzini, and this will be a very tough challenge for the visitors.
Meanwhile Frank Lampard has a number of decisions to make for the home team. Striker Tammy Abraham is unavailable after damaging his hip in the draw at Valencia.
This gives an opportunity for Michy Batshuayi to impress from the star, with Olivier Giroud likely to start on the bench. The Belgian has shown glimpses of improvement from the player who regularly looked lost on the pitch when he first signed for The Blues, but this will be his first major opportunity to make a claim for a long term position at the club.
With their opponents likely to be set up far more defensively than in their previous 2 matches, the manager will surely reinstate Mason Mount in midfield, but at the expense of whom?
Reece James has now shown enough ability and maturity that he should start the match, while Andreas Christensen did not fully impress on his return on Wednesday and could well make way for Fikayo Tomori to return.
Despite both Marcos Alonso and Emerson Palmieri not shining too brightly at left back and Cesar Azpilicueta recently moving across to cover that position, one of them could well start against West Ham thanks to their attacking prowess.
Callum Hudson-Odoi, Antonio Rudiger and Ross Barkley are all back in training following their lay-offs but are unlikely to feature. Otherwise this looks like a match in which it is all about how long it will take for The Blues to break through what will be a resolute and high in number defence. Break the deadlock and then there is the opportunity to inflict a relatively big defeat over their opponents.
Frank enjoyed his playing days against his former club, scoring 7 times and winning 13 out of 19 matches. And surely he will start his managing days against them in winning ways.
With 3 out of their next 4 league matches at home and against teams in the bottom half, Chelsea should not only return winning, but to be at the start of another unbeaten run.
If so, the previously unthinkable hope of a top 4 finish will genuinely look more like a certainty. And what a way for Frank to make his mark in his first season back at his real home.
Written by Jon Ellis, home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue