It’s Hammer time! The long-awaited showdown between West Ham and Chelsea has arrived. Scarcely believable at the start of the 2020/21 given the spending and reputational chasm between the two London sides, the beauty of the Premier League has held true once again. As much as West Ham have overwhelmed, Chelsea have underwhelmed, bringing with it a fascinatingly even context for this the biggest ever clash between these two in the Premier League. It is west against east, Claret against Blue and David (Moyes) against Goliath (Tuchel) with everything on the line for a UEFA Champions League place. Form and pedigree go out the window in a London derby. It is a European six-pointer. It is West Ham vs Chelsea!
West Ham vs Chelsea – Recent Form
Last 5 PL games: L-D-W-W-L
West Ham United are the neutral’s darling of the 2020/21 season. Terrifically dynamic, full of exciting players and as good in attack as they are culpable in defense, Hammers games are always full of excitement, energy and goals. Twenty-one of the Hammers’ thirty-two Premier League games this season saw three or more goals scored!
David Moyes, a much-maligned figure after his ill-fated takeover from Sir Alex Ferguson in the red half of Manchester, has totally galvanized a team that battled relegation last season. Ridding the team of expensive, underperforming signings, the Scotsman has replaced them with energetic, positive footballers like Jarrod Bowen, Tomas Soucek and arguably the league’s form player in Jesse Lingard.
The renaissance of Lingard is an intriguing one, certainly with respect to the narrative parallels that can be drawn to his manager. Like Moyes, Lingard had a difficult time at Manchester United. Out of the side and out of form, the Warrington-native has burst into life in a free role afforded to him by his manager.
Facing a Chelsea side that have lost just once in the league under manager Thomas Tuchel, the Irons will be looking to further the positive recent record they have against the Blues. In their last five home games against their London rivals, they have won three and lost only once. Similarly, only Manchester City, 38 points, have more home points than West Ham do with 31.
Of major concern for manager Moyes, though, will be his defense. In their last four league games, his side have shipped ten goals. Facing a miserly Chelsea side, the Scot will hope that his defense turns in a masterclass of a performance to give his attack the platform to get a crucial result.
Last 5 PL games: W-D-L-W-D
The Blues come off arguably one of their strangest and most mentally taxing weeks in recent history. Against the backdrop of all the European Super League (ESL) melodrama, the players looked shell shocked, mentally and emotionally lost against Brighton in midweek. Managing to scrape a 0-0 draw courtesy of Kepa Arrizabalaga’s right hand upright and some wasteful Brighton finishing, this was every bit the kind of Jekyll and Hyde performance that manager Thomas Tuchel will be eager to avoid against a dangerous West Ham outfit.
So disciplined, focused, and excellent Chelsea were against Manchester City last weekend as they qualified for a fourth FA Cup Final in five years, a repeat of that outing will be needed on Saturday. The team come up against a West Ham side with nothing to lose and everything to gain. This is the most pivotal clash between the two London rivals in recent memory as a win could go a long way to furthering the victor’s European ambitions in the process dealing a potentially fatal blow to their opposition.
The major conundrum facing Tuchel ahead of the game will be what to do with his front three. Showing somewhat of a dislike for Tammy Abraham means that the German has three options to choose from in the striking position, all of whom have underwhelmed at one time or another. Kai Havertz is not a natural striker but seems to be the preferred option as he offers the best all round attributes. Timo Werner’s profligacy means he is unlikely to be trusted and Olivier Giroud seems to be firmly entrenched as an option from the bench.
One major crumb of comfort is the defense. Nine clean sheets in thirteen matches since Tuchel’s arrival is a league best and at the very least provides the kind of solid foundation every successful team requires. As the season draws to a close, Chelsea need to start winning games rather than keeping clean sheets.
The game against the East Londoners may just be the perfect opportunity for the Blues manager to release the handbrake, get the hammer down and make a concerted charge towards securing Champions League football.
West Ham vs Chelsea – Players to Watch
West Ham: Jesse Lingard
Nine goals and three assists in ten games since joining on a six-month loan from Manchester United makes Jesse Lingard the league’s form player. He has been exceptional since moving south and is a player Chelsea need to keep an eye on.
The beauty of the England international’s resurrection is in the license he has to express himself. Unencumbered by defensive responsibility, he has used his terrific pace and running power to devastate opposition defenses in attacking transitions. He is the perfect player to thrive in manager Moyes’ system as the Scot often looks to exploit opposition imbalances with rapid breaks.
Not just brilliant on the break, a point to note about Lingard is his finishing ability. Often attempting exceedingly difficult shots from outside the box, his nine goals stand as a remarkable overperformance on an xG (Expected goals) of just 4.6.
The current jewel in a West Ham team aspiring to be among Europe’s elite, he will be one to watch out for from just about anywhere on the field on Saturday.
Chelsea: Christian Pulisic
Much like the post-lockdown period in the 2019/20 season, Pulisic is coming on strong at the end of the season. Looking fit, hungry and dangerous, the American winger is the livewire presence in Chelsea’s attack that could be very important during the run in to the end of the season.
Hitting form at the right time of the season is an underrated trait and Pulisic’s skillset suits Chelsea’s run in down to a ‘t.’ Direct, very tricky, virtually ambipedal and with a tremendously diverse array of skills, the number ten has proved crucial in the latest batch of games. Against Porto, he was essential in drawing fouls and releasing pressure. Against Crystal Palace, he was explosive and direct and even provided the opening goal in the lacklustre display against West Brom.
Over the course of the last six or seven games, Pulisic has been Chelsea’s most consistent attacker and could be the source of goals the Blues are desperate for. Owing to West Ham’s rather porous defense, there should be space for him to exploit and if there is anything the former Dortmund man thrives in it is space.
The fundamental reasons Christian Pulisic struggled this season is due to niggling injuries that halted his momentum. When the young winger gets going and builds up confidence, there is very little that gets in his way.
West Ham vs Chelsea – Predicted Lineups
Ahead of the seismic clash at the London Stadium, Moyes has several injury concerns that will weigh on his mind. The most significant piece of news emanating out of the West Ham boss’ press conference was that Lingard is fit for the game after recovering from cramp. Defensively the Hammers are struggling with both left-sided defenders Arthur Masuaku and Aaron Cresswell set to miss the game. The club will continue to be without Declan Rice and Michail Antonio who are long-term injury doubts.
This sets up an intriguing dilemma as a defensive reshuffle will be in order. Ben Johnson may again deputise at left wingback with Fabian Balbuena and Angelo Ogbonna to slot into the heart of the back three in the absence of the suspended Craig Dawson and injured Cresswell.
There is little doubt that Moyes will stick to his tried and tested back three and look to free Lingard and his attacking partners Fornals and Bowen to cause problems for the Chelsea defense. Captain Mark Noble and Tomas Soucek will screen the back four while wingbacks Coufal and Johnson get forward to provide the service to Bowen and Lingard that West Ham fans will hope leads their club to victory.
The best news for Chelsea fans heading into this derby is the fact that Tuchel has a fully fit squad from which to choose, apart from midfielder Mateo Kovacic. With such a hectic run of fixtures to come, having all the players in the squad to choose from means the head coach can rotate and protect players from injury.
But this is a game that Tuchel won’t want to rotate. Given the gap to the top four when the German took over, every game felt like a final. That intensity and importance hasn’t dissipated owing to Liverpool’s, Tottenham’s, West Ham’s and Leicester’s uptake in form. As a result, expect Chelsea’s best possible XI to be chosen for this game.
Though Kepa has started the last two games in a row and performed solidly, Edouard Mendy will likely return to the number one spot. In large tussles Tuchel prefers experience and leans on his defense. Azpilicueta, Silva and Rudiger should comprise the back four. As Reece James started the last two and West Ham are particularly vulnerable defensively, Callum Hudson Odoi may get the nod ahead of him. Hudson-Odoi’s pace, dribbling ability and directness will come in handy against the relatively inexperienced Johnson and the occasionally sketchy West Ham defense.
The conundrum over what to do with Werner may be one his German counterpart contemplates, especially given Christian Pulisic’s fitness issues of late. Comparing the two, the American presents a more dangerous goal threat now and thus may start. Next to Pulisic, the indefatigable and relentlessly consistent Mason Mount should take his place as well as the mobile, fluid and technically gifted Kai Havertz. Though Havertz has struggled for consistent goals, he has shown to be a viable short-term solution for Tuchel as the focal point of an attack.
With Kovacic out, Jorginho and Kanté should form the pivot in midfield, flanked by Hudson-Odoi and the evergreen Ben Chilwell. The appearance of Marcos Alonso against Brighton showed the benefit of having a pacier wingback who offers as much of an attacking outlet as a reliable defensive one.
With stakes so high in this match, Chelsea’s head coach is likely to go very strong in the hopes of hammering home an advantage in the race for coveted Champions League football.
Written and edited by Dan Hill (@idanknow05)
West Ham vs Chelsea: Match Details
Venue: London Stadium, London
Kick-Off: 5:30pm BST
Match Officials: Referee: Chris Kavanagh, Assistant Referees: Adam Nunn and Sian Massey-Ellis, Fourth Official: Mike Dean, VAR: Peter Bankes, Assistant VAR: Andy Halliday.
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