It’s an East vs West London derby in this week’s Fixture in Focus as West Ham host Chelsea at the London Stadium on Sunday. The Hammers’ confidence will have been boosted by their convincing win away at Everton last week after a poor start to the season under new boss Manuel Pellegrini that saw them lose their first four league games on the bounce.
However, despite the recent three points, this weekend will be a different test and a much sterner one at that. Chelsea have won all five of their opening Premier League fixtures and currently sit at the top of the table on goal difference, with Maurizio Sarri quickly transforming the Blues into an attacking team after years of defending being a priority under Antonio Conte and Jose Mourinho.
Our match preview covers everything you need to know ahead of the biggest game of the weekend, ranging from the team news and historic records between the two clubs to how the referee could influence the match.
In the Premier League, Chelsea have won this fixture double the amount of times that West Ham have, with 24 victories for the Blues compared to just 12 for the Hammers and an almost seven-year spell between 2006 and December 2012 where two 1-1 draws were the only games that Chelsea didn’t win.
Last season though, the East Londoners took four points from the two ties after Marko Arnautovic’s early goal gave them an unexpected win at the London Stadium in December and César Azpilicueta’s opener was cancelled out by a Javier Hernandez equaliser later in the season.
Over the years there have only been eight draws between the two clubs, so expect one side to knick it based on previous results.
Both of the main strikers have their own battles to fight at the moment, with Chelsea striker Olivier Giroud only getting his first start ahead of Alvaro Morata last weekend and West Ham’s mercurial talent Marko Arnautovic fighting to be fit after limping off with a knee injury in the win over Everton.
Ensuring that Arnautovic is fit to start must be priority number one for Pellegrini right now. The Austrian’s blistering start to the season has seen him directly involved in 80 per cent of West Ham’s five Premier League goals so far – with three goals and one assist.
Giroud earned himself a start for the 4-1 drubbing of Cardiff and the Frenchman is expected to retain his place after recording two assists in that game, taking his total to three for the season. The 31-year-old led the line for France as they won the World Cup in Russia over the summer, and although he failed to score in the summer and hasn’t got on the scoresheet in the Premier League, his game has become about bringing other forwards into the game – perfect news for Eden Hazard and co.
Chelsea fans should be quietly confident with the appointment of Mike Dean for this game, as his tendency to allow games to flow without giving constant fouls should allow the Blues to get into their attacking rhythm.
Out of the 21 referees in the Premier League last season, Dean ranked 17th for both fouls per game and fouls per tackle, indicating that he is happy to play advantage and West Ham won’t be able to make niggling fouls that slow the pace of the game.
When he does see a tackle as a foul though, Dean is not afraid to put players in the book. Last season he finished third for yellow cards per game with an average of 3.72 bookings in each fixture he took charge of. This should also help Chelsea, with the Hammers’ defenders unlikely to go in too hard on the tricky Hazard, Willian and Pedro thanks to the threat of a booking, or perhaps even more.
However, Pellegrini can take some solace in the stat that the home side were victorious in 44% of the games that Dean oversaw last season, with the away team only winning 28% of the time.
The big news here for the Hammers is obviously the fitness of Marko Arnautovic. Pellegrini said in his press conference on Thursday that he hoped the 29-year-old would be fit to start, but fellow striker Hernandez is also a doubt for the clash.
The rest of the team should really pick itself after the performance against Everton, with Mark Noble alongside Pedro Obiang in central-midfield in the absence of the once again injured Jack Wilshere. Youngster Declan Rice should then be handed the important job of siting behind the midfield, as the 19-year-old impressed at Goodison Park.
For Chelsea, we’re expecting Pedro to get the nod ahead of Willian as the Spaniard continues his strong start to the season, having netted three Premier League goals already. However, he was forced off late on in the Blues’ win away at POAK in the Europa League, so it could be a late fitness test that decides this particular spot.
Giroud, who has 83 caps for his country and won the World Cup this summer, should also keep his place in the starting XI. However, Sarri will be sweating on the fitness of Real Madrid loanee Mateo Kovacic who was left at home for the Europa League trip to Greece against POAK.
Chelsea’s midfield three have been the quickest to adapt to Sarri’s high-tempo style of play, thanks mainly to the presence of summer signing Jorginho who followed his former boss from Napoli. Expect to see him in the holding role dictating play, with N’Golo Kante in his new role playing box-to-box and Kovacic starting if he’s fit.
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