There’s nothing quite like watching a classic Premier League clash on Boxing Day, and epitomising the spirit and character of the English top flight – especially amid it’s uniquely dense winter schedule – is the fixture between Chelsea and West Ham.
Having done it on a cold weeknight in Stoke on Monday evening, the Premier League leaders will certainly fancy their chances of making it five wins on the bounce when entertaining the East Londoners at Stamford Bridge.
The Hammers are enjoying some incredible form of their own however, with a run of seven wins in their last eleven propelling them to fourth in the table, so they’ll enter the Boxing Day affair with full confidence.
Matches of such feistiness and festive spirit are often decided by who dominates the individual battles however, so with that in mind, here’s FIVE that could eventually decide the outcome.
Stewart Downing is enjoying a new lease of life in the No.10 role and arguably the most productive form of his career, grabbing a talismanic four goals and six assists in 16 Premier League outings this season.
Despite his tribulations over the last few years, it would be naive to think the England international isn’t capable of hurting Chelsea – currently, only Cesc Fabregas is creating more chances per match in the Premier League than the 30 year-old, as detailed below:
Downing conducts the ground play that contrasts so perfectly with the Hammers’ better famed long-ball style, so it’s vital the Blues eliminate him from the game as much as possible, forcing their opposition into more one-dimensional routes forward.
Fortunately for Chelsea however, Downing will be directly up against Nemanja Matic – a Serbian midfield monolith that’s proved himself integral to the Blues’ starting Xi and emerged as arguably the Premier League’s top enforcer over the last year.
He put in an incredible nine tackles against Stoke City yesterday evening, boasting a current average of 3.9 per match in the Premier League, so Chelsea fans will fancy his chances of nullifying Downing’s threat.
His height will be vital against the Hammers too – West Ham are the joint-tallest team in the Premier League with an average height of 6 foot 1, but the 26 year-old measures in at a whopping 6 foot 4.
After spending much of the first half of the season on the sidelines, Andy Carroll’s returned to fitness with real intent since the start of November, picking up three goals and one assist in his last three Premier League outings – including this beautiful chip against Leicester City:
Of course, the striker’s aerial threat will be the bigger concern to Chelsea than his eloquence on the ground. He’s currently the Premier League’s leading aerial combatant by a rather incredible distance, as detailed below:
As he proved last night against Peter Crouch, such dogfights are bread and butter for Chelsea skipper John Terry – but it’s inevitable that he’ll lose out on at least a handful of challenges with Carroll, so it’s a case of damage limitation.
The likelihood of a strike-partner, either World Cup star Enner Valencia or fellow heading enthusiast Diafra Sakho, throws in another potentially fatal dynamic for Terry to consider
Arsenal loanee Carl Jenkinson could be in for a really rough ride against Chelsea’s Eden Hazard on Boxing day.
That’s no disrespect to the one-time England international, who’s enjoyed a rich vein for form since his Upton Park move in the summer. But the Blues attacker is one of the world’s best and the powerful and tall Jenkinson, measuring in at 6 foot 1, is hardly tailor-made to handle tricky wingers with low centres of gravity.
Hazard’s notched up an impressive six goals and three assists this term, having started all of Chelsea’s Premier League fixtures thus far. But his defining gift is undoubtedly taking on defenders with the ball, currently sitting pretty at the top of the Premier League’s dribble charts:
That being said, the Belgium international’s occasional reluctance to track back is arguably Chelsea’s only notable weakness defensively, which gives Jenkinson an interesting avenue to exploit.
After Stewart Downing, West Ham’s full-backs are their most consistent providers this season, with two assists each, and both will bombard the box with speculative balls as much as possible – leaving Andy Carroll to do the rest.
Whilst Aaron Cresswell is unlikely to find much room against Willian and Branislav Ivanovic on the opposing flank, Jenkinson will get the space to put in accurate crosses. With Carroll in top form, that could directly influence the outcome of the match.
Diego Costa is a one-man wrecking ball – in echoes of Chelsea’s legendary Didier Drogba, he possesses the power and strength, but perhaps most importantly, the audacity, to occupy whole defences single-handedly.
The Spain international fights for every ball and runs the channels relentlessly in a bid to find a slither at goal – stopping him from doing so is the task of an entire department, not simply just one or two markers.
Costa’s hit a bit of a dry patch following his prolific early-season form, finding the net only once in his last six outings for the Blues – this scuffed finish against Hull City:
But twelve goals in 14 Premier League outings is a return only bettered by Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero, so the 6 foot 2 striker’s ability to find the net is without doubt.
On the other hand, if there’s one defence tailor-made to handle the physical menace Costa consistently provides, it’s almost certainly West Ham’s. The likes of Winston Reid, James Tomkins, James Collins and Carl Jenkinson are all tall and powerful, gritty defenders that will relish the challenge of batting it out with Chelsea’s battering-ram front-man.
The lynch-pin behind West Ham’s rise to fourth this season, the summer arrival of Alex Song has completely transformed the East London side.
The Cameroon international meets the usual requisites of a typical Hammers signing in terms of height and brawn, but blends it with Champions League experience and quality. He’s already become a focal point and leader of the starting XI.
Cesc Fabregas is a rather different proposition however – one Song only knows too well from their Arsenal and Barcelona days together.
The Spain international has amassed two goals and an incredible twelve assists this season, making him in some way responsible for a goal in all but two of his 16 Premier League appearances, and likely to feature in the No.10 role that served him so well against Stoke City, it will be predominantly up to Song to stop Fabregas creating.
With the 6 foot 2 midfielder currently averaging the most passes per match for the Hammers however, barring Mark Noble, Fabregas will have to maintain the pressure his former team-mate too.