Match Preview: Chelsea vs. West Ham United #CHEWHU
London Stadium/March 6, 2017
The Monday nightcap game sees the Blues travel to city rivals West Ham in a match that should just be another checkpoint on the road to the Premier League title for the Blues. With 12 matches to go in the season it's becoming increasingly likely that Chelsea will be crowned Premier League champions for the second time in three years. That being said the title isn't a sure thing yet, and any slip ups can be massive with Spurs and Man City ready to pounce. The West Ham team that Chelsea will face may have lost Payet in January, but have turned their fortunes around recently after a terrible start to the season. They have not lost for over a month, and are currently positioned near the top half of the table. The Hammers have already beaten Chelsea once this season (in the league cup), and will be itching to beat them again.
The Blues are coming off a 3-1 win against Swansea, continuing a run of good form that stretches all the way back to January 4th against Tottenham. That Spurs game was the last time Chelsea lost in all competitions, as Conte's men look to win not just the league title but the FA Cup as well. With a clash againt Mourinho's United in the latter competition coming up soon, the Blues have to make sure their focus is on Monday's match. Thanks to this being a Monday game, they will know the results of both the Man City and Spurs games. One of those two teams are likely to win, probably Man City who are taking on Sunderland, potentially putting the pressure on the Blues for Monday night.
Fabregas or Matic? That's the question that both Conte and the fans have been wondering throughout the season, and that will conceivably be the case for this one. Although Matic might be more appropriate considering the opponent, Fabregas was possibly the best Chelsea player against Swansea and is in a great run of form at the moment. Conte may choose to ride the hot hand, but then again he may prefer Matic's defensive work rate. It's impossible to predict at this point, so I won't make a prediction. Conte earned my trust a long time ago, and if there's anyone who knows what the best lineup to play is it's him.
Injuries: Hazard (probable).
Very rarely does losing your best player be a positive for a team, although some may argue that might be the case with West Ham. Although the loss of Payet made the Hammers a less talented team, they've only lost once since then, and that was against Man City. They currently sit 11th in the table, and a win on Monday will allow them to move into 9th spot. With European spots surely out of hand now, a top 10 finish is going to be the end goal for Bilic this season.
The biggest question surrounding West Ham is their back line. No other team near the top half of the table have surrendered as many goals as West Ham. Their first choice right-back, Angelo Ogbonna, will miss this game with an injury and without a proper back up, midfielder Kouyate has been forced to deputize at right-back the past couple of games to scathing reviews. While Jose Fonte is a stabilizing presence, neither Kouyate, Reid, or Cresswell are top quality defenders, especially considering the caliber of Chelsea players they will need to shut down.
Problems exist at the other end of the pitch as well. Michail Antonio picked up a red card against Watford, meaning he is suspended for this match. Journeyman Andy Carroll will be called upon to lead the line, likely to be severely overmatched against the likes of Dave, Luiz, and Cahill. It will likely take a Herculean effort from this lot to beat the juggernaut Blues.
Injuries: Ogbonna, Tore, Sakho (out). Carrol (probable).
3 Matchups to Watch
- Hazard v. Kouyate: Like mentioned before, Kouyate is a midfielder being forced to deputize at right-back, and his performance against Watford was severely criticized by fans and pundits alike on social media. If Chelsea are looking for the weakest link to exploit, this will be the obvious one. If Eden Hazard is on his game, Kouyate will be severely overmatched. The game can be won easily for Chelsea right here.
- Moses v. Snodgrass: Robert Snodgrass, the former Hull City man, was an important signing by Bilic in the January transfer window. He scored 7 goals this season with Hull, which automatically makes him the second highest scorer with West Ham. He does not have a goal yet with his new club, and doing it against Chelsea would be a great time for him to do so. Bilic has played him on the left side of midfield, meaning it will be Victor Moses' job as right wing back to slow him down.
- Costa v. Fonte: Although the race for the title is winding down somewhat, the race for the Golden Boot is well underway. Barring Sunday's Spurs-Everton matchup, Costa is just 1 goal behind Sanchez, Kane, and Lukaku. Diego did score last game against Swansea, and will be matched up against the Portuguese Fonte. Another transfer pickup for the Hammers, Fonte is arguable their best defender. On a team with little talent at the back, the Hammers may go only as far as his performance goes.
- The two teams have already played twice this season, once in the league and once in the leage cup. Chelsea beat the West Ham in the league, but the Hammers got their revenge knocking Chelsea out of the cup. Monday's match will be the last meeting of the season, and considering they are London rivals bragging rights are at stake here.
- UPDATE: Andy Carroll will face a late fitness test to determine his availability. If he is unable to go then either Jonathan Calleri or Ashley Fletcher will take his spot.
- Congratulations to both Antonio Conte and N'golo Kante, as the two won Manager of the Year and Premier League Player of the Year respectively at this past week's London Football Awards.