Chelsea head to Upton Park for the last time on Saturday, hoping to avoid becoming another huge scalp for West Ham. After seeing off Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City this term, Slaven Bilic’s side certainly have potential to pull off an upset, but can they hand the Blues another defeat?
The champions returned to winning ways last weekend, beating Aston Villa 2-0 at Stamford Bridge. After a 0-0 draw away at Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League, they are starting to look more like the side of last season. That isn’t enough to put their poor form from this campaign away for good, but we’re hopefully seeing signs of a turnaround, at least defensively.
Finishing in the top four will be Mourinho’s main requirement this season after the nightmare start. Despite lingering near the bottom for much of the campaign to date, his team are now just six points off fourth place. That gives them extra motivation to win this weekend, seeing as the team currently in fourth are their opponents West Ham.
As we mentioned, the Hammers have landed a few massive results this term, winning away to some very big sides. At home, things have been a different story for them. They’ve lost to Leicester and Bournemouth, while they drew with Norwich. That’s not how they want to spend their final season at Upton Park before their move to the Olympic Stadium next year.
The main question is, is their side set up to play better away from home, or are they built to face big sides? They tend to be a counter attacking team, which plays well when they can sit back away from home. It suits them even more to be playing deep against a stronger team, as they can wait for their chance to counter.
While that worked against very attacking sides, it’s hard to see the same thing happening with Chelsea. Mourinho doesn’t tend to go all out away from home, and he certainly won’t in this game after seeing what West Ham can do. Expect the manager to urge his side to sit back early on, trying to coax the Hammers out from their deep positions, and get them out of their comfort zone.
A more defensive central midfield pairing is important to that, so expect Nemanja Matic to keep his spot after a good performance in Kiev. Alongside him will be either Ramires, who started in Ukraine too, or Rueben Loftus-Cheek, who was promised a run in the team by Mourinho. That leaves Fabregas as the number 10, a role which should suit him in this kind of game.
The first goal in this match will be crucial, as it will totally change the contest. If West Ham get it, they can wait for the Blues to push forward and punish them on the counter. If Chelsea get it, then they’ll force West Ham to play in a more attacking style than usual, which hasn’t worked for them this term. Which both sides looking to counter, don’t expect to see many goals on show, with another Chelsea clean sheet very much on the cards.
LCN Verdict: Chelsea to win 1-0