Sunday, 5 March 2017

West Ham v Chelsea Match Preview (06/03/17): Blues Ready for Battle of London Honours

Blues fans will have to wait until Monday night to get their Chelsea fix – and what a cracking match we have in store.

A trip across the capital to West Ham lies in wait for Antonio Conte’s men, who go to the Olympic Stadium in good heart after a 3-1 triumph over revitalised Swansea last time out.

Cesc Fabregas marked his 300th Premier League game with a goal, and the Spaniard has been outstanding in his appearances of late. You would suggest he deserves to keep his place in the side here, having also hit the bar and forcing a great save from Lukasz Fabianski against the Swans.

Further goals from Pedro and Diego Costa confirmed the victory, and while the defending for Fernando Llorente’s consolation for the Swans was disappointing it was, pretty much, business as usual for the Blues.

So what can we expect from the Hammers on Monday? Their current form (W3 D2 L3) is indicative of their campaign as a whole really, and they are yet to beat a team from the top of the table this season; their record against sides from the top 10 reads W0 D4 L8, and that sums up their aspirations rather nicely. Their goal difference from 13 games in their new Olympic home is -13, which suggests they are still finding their feet in unfamiliar surroundings.

Understandably then Chelsea are favourites for the game, and it is potential banana skins like this one that they must not slip on.

Chelsea Team News

Once again, Chelsea boast a clean bill of health for a Premier League game, and that has been a feature of the campaign. Whether Antonio Conte’s training sessions are such that niggles are avoided or whether it is just darn good luck, the Blues have enjoyed a charmed season on the injury front.

And so once again the Italian’s decisions are tactical ones, rather than enforced. Both Andy Carroll and Michail Antonio look set to miss the game through injury and suspension respectively, and as such the Hammers’ aerial prowess is dimmed somewhat. If Conte had planned on making defensive alterations to combat that – perhaps John Terry coming in – then he no longer needs to worry.

The only things keeping Conte up at night are these two quibbles: should Fabregas or Nemanja Matic start alongside N’Golo Kante in midfield? And who does he want to start on the right-hand side: Pedro or Willian? For the moment at least, that is as tough as it gets for the manager.

You would assume he would stick with the present incumbents in their respective positions, Fabregas and Pedro. Both have been unbelievably good of late.

West Ham v Chelsea Head to Head

We had a dress rehearsal of sorts for this game back in October, when the Hammers triumphed in a 2-1 win in the League Cup on their own turf. But realistically that fixture is of little consequence given as it came prior to Conte’s switch to the infamous 3-4-3 system.

West Ham actually have a pretty good home record against the Blues, with victories in 2012 and 2015 in league games, but if you are into the head-to-head stats then it is worth noting that Chelsea’s record in matches in all competitions against the Iron reads W16 D5 L3 since 2004.

How the Match Will Be Won

Michail Antonio, Andy Carroll and Angela Ogbonna will all miss Monday’s encounter and that trio is crucial to the way the Hammers play. Without the aerial strength of the former pair in attack and the latter in defence, the Iron lack height and power and both ends of the pitch.

Going forward then West Ham will need to be a bit more circumspect in their build-up play, and it’s not really an angle that suits them. It plays into Chelsea’s hands – we’ve thought David Luiz and Cesar Azpilicueta are vulnerable in the air for some time – and that can only be a good thing.

The best way to describe West Ham’s midfield is hard-working, rather than outrageously talented. The likes of Mark Noble will make life difficult for Fabregas and Kante by closing down the space and minimising their time on the ball. It should prove to be a fantastic ding-dong battle.

It’s in wide areas where we really expect Chelsea to flourish. The Hammers also play with wing backs, so Alonso and Moses will find themselves one-on-one with (probably) Aaron Cresswell and Edimilson Fernandes; it’s a battle the Blues will expect to win, especially with Eden Hazard and Pedro dropping into the half spaces just inside.

Chelsea boast all of the tools to beat the Iron, and the absence of Antonio and Carroll blunts any hopes the Hammers had of getting anything from this game.

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