Chelsea are set to welcome West Ham United to Stamford Bridge this evening in a fixture which the hosts simply have to win to keep their dream of qualifying for the top-four alive.
The visitors have little to play for but they have a reputation for saving their most outstanding performances for the top-six clubs, so the Blues will be wary of the threat they could pose in the all-London affair.
Chelsea go into the game on the back of a resounding 3-0 victory over Brighton last week, while the Hammers arrive after being outplayed by Everton at the London Stadium in a 2-0 defeat.
Ahead of the game, Football FanCast have provided an in-depth preview, including potential starting XI’s and what the history books tell us.
Historically speaking, Manuel Pellegrini’s side have struggled to claim three points at the Bridge. Their last win away at Chelsea arrived in 2002 when an 84th minute strike from no other than Paolo Di Canio secured a dramatic 3-2 victory for the visitors.
That stands alone as their only win at Chelsea since the turn of the Millennium, but a 1-1 draw last season suggests that they could stand a chance of breaking their hoodoo tonight.
The Blues boast a superior but not completely dominant head-to-head record, and with holes clearly there to be picked in Maurizio Sarri’s system an unlikely win could be on the cards.
The central midfield battle could ultimately decide our Fixture in Focus. Andre Gomes and Idrissa Gueye dominated the central area against West Ham last time out, dictating the tempo and breaking up play with seamless ease.
Chelsea’s offering of midfielders pose a markedly different challenge for Declan Rice at the base of midfied, and stopping a revamped N’Golo Kante from marauding into the penalty area will be one of his most fundamental tasks.
The holding midfielder turned box-to-box man has made less tackles and interceptions than Rice so far this season, but that reduction in defensive output has been traded off for an extra dose of creativity and forward-thinking dynamism.
These two are likely to lock horns in what promises to be a fascinating battle between two of the league’s finest midfielders.
Chris Kavanagh, 34, has been appointed as the referee ahead of the game. That his away win bias stands at just 16.7% suggests that the travelling Irons are up against it as they bid to record a rare victory at Stamford Bridge.
What we can expect is a free-flowing game, as Kavanagh has only given out an average of seven fouls per game in the previous two Chelsea fixtures he has been in charge of this season.
West Ham, meanwhile, have won just one of the four encounters Kavanagh has refereed this season, drawing two and losing the other.
Compared to the other eighteen referees who have been appointed for a Premier League fixture so far this season, Kavanagh is on the lenient side and is generally reluctant to award fouls, penalties or red cards.
Both Marcos Alonso and Pedro are carrying knocks and facing late fitness tests ahead of the fixture. The former has been engaged in a battle with Emerson for a starting berth at left-back in recent weeks and the Brazilian could keep his place in the side with question marks remaining over Alonso’s fitness.
Hudson-Odoi’s electric performance against Brighton, meanwhile, should ensure that he keeps his place in the starting XI with Pedro struggling.
We’re predicting that Sarri will name an unchanged team from the side that started last Wednesday, with Olivier Giroud keeping Gonzalo Higuain on the bench after notching his first league goal of 2019 against the Seagulls.
Pellegrini is set to welcome Felipe Anderson back into the fold tonight after his notable absence against Everton. Samir Nasri is back in training and could feature for the Hammers as his short-term deal ticks towards expiry.
A 4-2-3-1 system has been deployed to excellent effect against some of the top-six sides this season – most recently against Liverpool – so it’s likely that the Chilean will use a similar system to stifle Chelsea’s threat.
We’re anticipating a return for Mark Noble after West Ham were overran in midfield last time out, while Michail Antonio, Javier Hernandez and Anderson also return in four changes.