West Ham United host Chelsea at the London Stadium on Sunday looking to secure only their second victory of the new Premier League season so far. The visitors, meanwhile, come into the game with their 100% record in the league still intact.
Last week’s triumph over Everton looks to have steadied the ship a little for the Hammers, however, another poor performance against the Blues could easily see Manuel Pellegrini under pressure once more. Chelsea, on the other hand, must be considered genuine title contenders if they maintain their scintillating form this weekend.
Last season, West Ham emerged triumphant in this fixture by virtue of a 1-0 scoreline, but could history possibly repeat itself on Sunday? This week’s experts, Football FanCast’s Editor-in-Chief James Jones and Llion Carbis of Chelsea FanCast, give their views and predictions ahead of Sunday’s 13:30 clash…
Chelsea’s strong start is evidenced by their maximum points tally at this stage, however, big question marks still surround one central aspect of their attacking set up.
Despite scoring against Arsenal, Alvaro Morata looks to have carried his poor form from last season into this new campaign. Would you give the struggling Spaniard another chance to get back to his best against West Ham or should Sarri stick with Olivier Giroud?
Llion: “Giroud, without a shadow of a doubt. Morata is exceedingly talented, but his demeanour seems eerily similar to that of Fernando Torres when he was at the club. His confidence is very frail, and he seems bereft of self-belief.
On the other hand, Giroud’s impact is telling every time he enters the pitch. He utilises his large frame and physical presence to provide the team with a reference point. But, most importantly, his link-up play, especially with Eden Hazard, is incredibly beneficial. Scarcely do you see Giroud being mentioned for his technical quality, but the Frenchman’s close control and layoffs are tremendous, as was exemplified against Cardiff when he registered two assists.”
Pellegrini, meanwhile, has a selection dilemma of his own following a recent injury to one of his summer recruits.
Jack Wilshere has been ruled out for at least 6 weeks following yet another ankle injury. Just how big a blow is this and what can Pellegrini do to cope with the midfielder’s absence?
James: “I don’t think it’s a huge blow to be honest, as he wasn’t part of that midfield three that appeared to have clicked in the win over Everton. His absence in that game gave Declan Rice a chance to redeem himself after being hauled off at half-time against Liverpool on the opening day, and he took it with a very impressive performance. Wilshere would perhaps offer a bit more creativity in that midfield three if he were fit but at the same time, he hasn’t exactly shown us in his first four performances that he’s capable of being that guy anyway. It’s a shame because he obviously represents another option for Pellegrini, but I don’t think it’s a relatively big blow.”
Both sides come into this one off the back of Premier League victories and both clubs also took on new managers after the end of last season, with Maurizio Sarri being handed the reigns at Stamford Bridge and Pellegrini taking up the hot seat at London Stadium.
Sarri’s reign at Stamford Bridge has got off to a flying start, what have been the key factors behind his success so far?
Llion: “One of the key factors has been the effective use of possession. As opposed to needlessly keeping the ball, without creating chances, we dictate possession and succeed in crafting purposeful opportunities to score. Jorginho is the coordinator, he is the puppet master, pulling strings to assemble every attack. He is the one that allows the side to exploit space and penetrate opposition defences.
Another critical factor has been the freedom that has been granted to our creative stars. In six games, Willian, Pedro and Hazard have already totalled ten goals, and it’s clear that they’re benefitting from Sarri’s attack-minded approach. When we lose the ball, our relentless pressing allows us to regain possession quickly, which ensures that our attacking players continually occupy advanced positions.”
Pellegrini, however, prior to last weekend’s win at Goodison Park, had had to endure defeat in each of his first four league games in charge of the East London outfit.
West Ham got their first win of the season last time out against Everton. What were the key changes following the previous four straight defeats that caused this dramatic improvement?
James: “Manuel Pellegrini had to change something after four defeats in a row and he did, with a midfield three that was primarily defensive minded but was capable of launching attacks when chances presented themselves. Instead of playing the high line we were more looking to play on the counter, and that suited our front three of Felipe Anderson, Andriy Yarmolenko and Marko Arnautovic perfectly. This should be our system moving forward now, at least until we can welcome Manuel Lanzini back into the team after Christmas.”
Despite being the home side and now having three points under their belts, the Hammers must remain very wary of the threat that Chelsea pose.
The Blues arrive with a 100% record in the Premier League so far, what must West Ham do to end their winning run?
James: “It’s going to be difficult but I think Chelsea’s defence can be exposed by pace and physicality. If we can get our three attacking players running at the likes of David Luiz then we can cause them all sorts of problems, particularly when you consider how erratic Luiz can be when under pressure. If we can be patient and launch counters then I think we’ll have a small chance of surprising people, but that’s a big ask.”
Of course, that isn’t to say that Chelsea can afford to take this match lightly.
West Ham will be on a high having secured their first win last time out, what must Chelsea do to ensure the Hammers’ good form doesn’t continue?
Llion: “Marko Arnautovic has been their best player for a while, and we’ll have to negate his presence. The Austrian is West Ham’s point of reference, who can run in behind defences or attempt to hold up the ball and bring others into play. He’s exceedingly creative, and he’s particularly physical and proficient in the air. Under Sarri’s guidance, we’ve struggled to defend crosses adequately, such as Joselu’s goal in our 2-1 win at Newcastle, or Sol Bamba scoring the opening goal in our 4-1 triumph against Cardiff City.”
And finally, where are your teams most vulnerable to the threats posed by the opposition, and what can the managers do to counteract these dangers?
Llion: “As previously mentioned, we’ve been vulnerable while defending crosses and set-pieces. It’s evident that Kepa Arrizabalaga is still in the process of familiarising himself with the demands and the intensity of the Premier League.
Despite his consummate professionalism and trust that he has attained from Maurizio Sarri, David Luiz has continued to display his defensive fragility when playing in a back-four. He was responsible for Joselu’s goal against Newcastle, and he conceded a needless free-kick that resulted in Cardiff’s goal last weekend. Personally, I think Christensen should displace Luiz at the heart of the defence.”
James: “Our full-backs remain our primary weakness and Everton were able to expose them on a number of occasions last weekend. I can see Fredericks coming in for Zabaleta, purely because he has more pace, but even then he and Masuakau – who isn’t a natural full-back himself – will be where Chelsea look to attack. The centre of our defence has tightened up with Fabian Balbuena and Issa Diop both forming a relatively solid partnership, so that doesn’t worry me as much. If Hazard gets on the ball and runs at Masuaku or Fredericks/Zabaleta then he’ll have a very fun afternoon.”
All that’s left are your score predictions…
Llion: “3-1 Chelsea”
James: “Our recent home record against Chelsea hasn’t been too shabby, winning three of the last four in all competitions. Two of those wins came at London Stadium which, given our record in Stratford since we moved in over two years ago, probably makes Chelsea the team we enjoy playing most at our new home. With all that said, I’m going to go for a 1-1 draw. We. Are. Staying. Up.”
Thanks to James and Llion for their thoughts and predictions. For more analysis and insight into this weekend’s clash between West Ham and Chelsea, make sure you listen to the latest episode of the Fixture In Focus podcast.