West Ham host Chelsea at the London Stadium this weekend, with both teams having endured almost polar opposite starts to the season.
The Hammers lost their first four games of the season on the bounce under new boss Manuel Pellegrini before beating Everton 3-1 at Goodison Park last Sunday. Over the summer, the Chilean boss brought in nine new signings and his new look side had failed to hit the ground running. With Andriy Yarmolenko netting twice last weekend though it looks as though Pellegrini is finally starting to settle on his best starting XI.
Chelsea had a tough trip to Greece in the Europa League on Thursday, and the Hammers will be hoping to use the extra time to prepare to their advantage. However, Maurizio Sarri’s side have been in electric form under their new manager so far, winning every game and sitting at the top of the Premier League table on goal difference.
So, how will this one unfold? Football FanCast take a look at where Sunday’s early clash will be lost and won…
Marcos Alonso loves to get forward. His wing-back role under Antonio Conte suited him perfectly and he has carried that attacking form into this season, recording a goal and two assists so far in just five Premier League games. Under Sarri though, the Spaniard is now playing in a more traditional back four and his forward runs could potentially leave space out wide for West Ham to exploit.
With £17.5m new boy Yarmolenko set to start on the right of the front three for the Hammers, it will be interesting to see the approach he takes to combat Alonso’s threat. The ex-Borussia Dortmund winger can either stay high and wide in the hope that this will force the Chelsea full-back to stay back, or he can prioritise defensive duties and take up a deeper starting position to help out his own right-back, although this could make it difficult for the Hammers to get out when they do have possession.
Chelsea’s midfield have been perhaps the most impressive part of Sarri’s revolution so far, with the club making more passes than any other side in the Premier League so far, almost a full 300 ahead of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.
Jorginho is the man who sits at the base of the midfield three and makes the most passes, but it’s N’Golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic (if fit) that West Ham will need to be wary of as they make runs beyond the attackers and into the box. Pedro Obiang’s inclusion for the Hammers could be key as he has the legs to track runners where Mark Noble may struggle.
This area of the game could also rest upon the performance of youngster Declan Rice, who impressed in the holding midfield role against Everton and will need to be at his best to offer sufficient protection to his back four as they contend with Chelsea’s front three and runners from deep.
Eden Hazard is on fire at the moment, and after he netted a hattrick against Cardiff last weekend, Sarri set him the huge task of scoring 40 goals this season. The Belgian has been given far more freedom to roam by Sarri than he ever had under Conte and he is relishing the new system that the Blues are adapting to.
The 27-year-old is currently the League’s top scorer with five goals and was certainly helped by Olivier Giroud starting ahead of Alvaro Morata against Neil Warnock’s side, as Hazard is far more effective playing with a target man. The key to any potential success for West Ham will almost certainly rest on whether they can stop Chelsea’s main man from getting himself into the game.
Whether Pellegrini decides to have someone man-mark the Belgium captain or if he chooses to play Ryan Fredericks over Pablo Zabaleta for the Englishman’s extra pace we can’t call. What we do know though is that the Hammers boss must have a plan to limit Hazard’s involvement.
Javier Hernandez has, rather unfairly at times, made a career out of being a fantastic substitute. The former Manchester United striker is a classic poacher and scores almost all his goals in the 18-yard box. Last year he came off the bench at Stamford Bridge in the same fixture to score the equaliser and it’s almost a given that he will be introduced at some point by Pellegrini if the Hammers are behind.
For Sarri and Chelsea, their bench at the London Stadium will no doubt host a relative embarrassment of riches. With £60m striker Alvaro Morata not even the first choice for the Italian boss to change things. If he doesn’t get the nod to start, Willian will most likely be the impact player that Sarri uses to up the tempo if things start to go flat.
The Brazilian, who is valued at £45m by Transfermarkt, captained the side and scored the only goal of the game in Chelsea’s Europa League opener against POAK on Thursday, and having a player of his quality on the bench could be crucial for the Blues if West Ham are proving difficult to break down.