Friday 26th December – 12:45 – Stamford Bridge
Chelsea entertain high-flying West Ham United at Stamford Bridge on Boxing Day looking to maintain their three-point advantage over Manchester City at the top of the Premier League. However, the Blues will be well aware of the tough challenge awaiting them in Friday’s early kick-off given the form Sam Allardyce’s side have displayed so far this season, with the fourth-placed Hammers having lost just once in the league since September. Their latest game came against Leicester last weekend, resulting in a 2-0 win. However, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has never tasted defeat in six top-flight London derbies against West Ham and, with his team also unbeaten at home in the league this campaign, he will be expecting to maintain those impressive records. They are of course the league leaders, and beat Stoke 2-0 on Monday night. We already know about The Blues’ credentials as title contenders, but this game will really test West Ham’s top four claims, and with Arsenal to come on Sunday, is this the start of a downfall in East London?
The Key Battle: John Terry vs Andy Carroll
Ten seasons on from the first time John Terry lifted the Premier League trophy, he’s hoping to do so again, and is having a fantastic season in the Chelsea defence, which has conceded the joint least goals and kept the most clean sheets in the divison.
Terry also got on the scoresheet on Monday night against Stoke, and the stats say he’s playing better than ten years ago. The former England captain has a better percentage of duels and tackles won than in 2004-05, as well as committing less fouls per game.
You wouldn’t he was out of contract at the end of the season would you?
His direct opponent and fellow Englishman Andy Carroll has every right to be in buoyant mood at this time. The striker, having missed most of the season due to injury, has added freshness and further attacking quality to the West Ham machine, which continues to rumble on in a manner few would have predicted.
He has three goals in as many games, and is beginning to show signs again on why Liverpool somehow shelled out £35 million for him in 2011.
The 25 year old faces huge competition for a spot in the starting line up at Upton Park, but if he carries on scoring, Big Sam will have no choice but to keep the 6ft 3in striker in the side.
- In-form midfielder Eden Hazard is doubtful after injuring his ankle during the victory at Stoke.
- Other than that, Jose Mourinho has a fully fit squad to choose from, so Andre Schurrle could replace Hazard.
- Oscar was an unused substitute at the Britannia Stadium as Mourinho showed his intent to rotate players in this period, but the Brazilian playmaker should return to the starting line-up.
West Ham United
- Midfielder and vice-captain Mark Noble returns to the squad after recovering from an Achilles problem that has kept him out since the end of the October.
- Defender James Tomkins is the Hammers’ only injury doubt after he was substituted against Leicester with a hamstring problem.
- Sam Allardyce’s selection dilemma upfront continues as Mauro Zarate, Enner Valencia, Andy Carroll and Diafra Sakho are all fit to start. The latter two got the nod against Leicester.
Chelsea wins = 38 / West Ham wins = 36 / Draws = 19
Last Meeting: Chelsea 0-0 West Ham United (29th January 2014)
Chelsea slipped up in the race for the title as they were held by a dogged West Ham at Stamford Bridge. The Blues controlled the match but were frustrated by Sam Allardyce’s lowly Hammers, who defended stoutly. Oscar had a shot touched onto the bar by Adrian, who also kept out efforts from John Terry and Samuel Eto’o. Eto’o thought he had scored late on after assuming the West Ham keeper had wrongly placed the ball for a free-kick, but his effort was disallowed. That was one of several frantic moments in the last 10 minutes for the visitors, with Frank Lampard forcing Adrian to make a superb save with his feet and another Blues substitute, Demba Ba, hitting the post with a flicked effort.
Stat of the Match
The last time the Hammers were in the top four of the top-flight on Christmas Day was back in 1985. They finished that season in third.
Where can I watch it?
If you’re not having a second Christmas dinner on Boxing Day, tune in to Sky Sports 1 at 12:30 pm, with the game starting 15 minutes later. If you haven’t got the time (and I frankly haven’t!), Match of the Day will show the highlights on BBC One that evening at 11 pm.
My Prediction: Chelsea 2-1 West Ham United
West Ham certainly aren’t in the top four at Christmas by luck, and should still have a strong season, but this match could be the start of tough period for them. Chelsea have an excellent home record, and should just win despite not having Eden Hazard who is key to their Stamford Bridge. The now inconsistent Diego Costa will score for the Blues, as well as Willian, but The Hammers have scored in their last eight Premier League away games, and Diafra Sakho will get on the scoresheet for them. I always sound so confident by saying ‘will’…