Stadium: Boleyn Ground
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Kick-off: 6:15 PM (IST), Saturday, 1st of December
West Ham United put up a remarkable fight at Old Trafford on Wednesday night, in spite of conceding in the first minute, to escape with a respectable 1 – 0 scoreline. The Hammers looked solid both in attack as well as defence, with only an equally impressive performance from the home team preventing West Ham from making more of the match. Now up against Chelsea at home, where they have kept 3 clean sheets in 7 matches, and conceded just once on three of the remaining occasions, Sam Allardyce’s men will hope to add shine to their fervour with a point, or maybe three.
The Blues’ unspectacular slump continued in midweek, almost unsurprisingly, as they failed to win yet another game, and failed to score yet again. However, a slip up from West Brom made sure that Chelsea’s solitary point against Fulham was sufficient to see them sneak back into third place, ahead of the Baggies. Facing their second London derby in a row now, the team from Stamford Bridge will hope that they can put the torment of November behind them, begin December with a win, and push on from there.
West Ham United: D W D L L
Quite unsurprisingly, West Ham’s weakest area in the match at Old Trafford was their midfield. With Mark Noble missing, the gap between defence and attack was just insufficiently bridged, leaving the attack short of service, and the home team will be looking forward to his return after a one-match suspension. In spite of impressive performances, West Ham’s results have been faltering over the past few weekends, and they now find themselves sitting in 10th spot in the league. They have also only scored 16 times in their fourteen games, which is just 2/3 of what their opponents have scored in the same number of games. Their opponents have the third best defence in the league, with just 13 goals conceded, and will be tough to break down, as always.
Chelsea: D L L D D
The visitors are yet to score under their new manager, Rafael Benitez, and in spite of having been in charge for less than ten days, the Spaniard will be feeling the heat of the Chelsea fans’ revulsion towards him. Always more amenable to a solid defensive side, than one that plays with a devil-may-care attitude, Benitez might just be applying the wrong approach to this current Chelsea squad by piling defensive duties on to Mata and Hazard, in addition to their considerable offensive responsibilities. While this has helped Chelsea keep clean sheets in both their games under new management, the fans of the blues are used to watching their team score aplenty, and will only bay for Benitez’s blood even more, if this continues.
In terms of numbers, Chelsea have won exactly zero games in November, and picked up a measly four points from a possible fifteen. Worse yet, they continue to be the team with the second worst tally over the recent past, with just four points over six weekends, only better than QPR. Over that period, Chelsea have conceded 7 and scored just 5, which, along with West Ham’s impressive performances on their home turf, indicate that this is likely to be a low scoring affair.
West Ham United: Alou Diarra, Ricardo Vaz Te, Jack Collison, Yossu Benayoun, George McCartney.
Kevin Nolan vs Gary Cahill
The one man who has risen above the rest for West Ham on numerous occasions already this season, Kevin Nolan seemed most eager to rescue a point for his team at Old Trafford. A consistent name on the scoring sheet at the beginning of the season, Nolan has tailed away in the past three matches, and is due a big performance. Gary Cahill, on the other hand, has been more impressive going forward than defending in his limited appearances thus far, but the new system implemented under Benitez should only suit his style of play. A tough one then, for Nolan, to find the back of the net.
Eden Hazard vs James Tomkins
In spite of a relatively flat performance in midweek, Chelsea’s stellar signing has been increasing in stature at the Blues, and it is he who now appears a slightly more potent threat than Juan Mata. With the Spaniard having taken upon himself the responsibility of dictating play, Hazard has been switching positions often with Oscar to land in a central area from which he can hope to score. The Belgian’s drifting runs to the inside are extremely clever, and James Tomkins will need to keep an eye on him for the full 90 minutes, to avoid Jaaskelainen the trouble of having to make some tough saves.
Yet another low scoring affair for Mr. Benitez’s men. Both teams have been miserly with both scoring as well as conceding goals in the recent past, and on the evidence of their midweek performances, there seems no reason to believe that it should change in this fixture. With the added pressure of the Chelsea fans on his back, Benitez might try certain improvisations over his tactics, but it is difficult to see it paying exceptionally rich dividends.