COMMENT By Matt Farr
West Ham and Chelsea go head-to-head at the London Stadium on Monday night in the final of this week’s Premier League fixtures.
Chelsea will be looking to reaffirm their English dominance this season with a 21st victory, and currently stand firm seven points clear at the top of the Premier League.
The Hammers, meanwhile, will want to build upon their three match unbeaten run with a win against a side they have already beaten in the EFL Cup earlier in the campaign.
The encounter has the potential to spring a few surprises, but here are three things that we can expect to happen:
An early goal
Chelsea are a free-scoring side, while West Ham don’t have the most flattering defensive record to combat it. So you can expect Chelsea to find the back of the net at least once in the game.
However, West Ham don’t often make the best of starts to games, and have recently been prone to conceding early goals.
The Hammers have conceded within the first 12 minutes of each of their last three Premier League outings, and that could continue against Chelsea.
Players like Eden Hazard, Pedro and Diego Costa are likely to put West Ham to the sword right from the word go, and the Hammers’ back-line will need to ensure they are concentrating throughout.
It will be difficult to come from behind against a team like Chelsea, so if they can maintain their defensive shape and keep the door shut for the first 20-30 minutes, they might well come through unscathed.
Carroll to score a header
If there is one area of vulnerability to exploit in Chelsea’s game, it’s their aerial ability.
Therefore, if West Ham are going to nick a goal or two on Monday, it is likely to be through a header; and who better to score that than 28-year-old striker Andy Carroll?
Carroll’s return will give West Ham a major boost heading into the fixture, after making a speedy recovery from a groin injury.
Slaven Bilic will need to set his side out to play with a more direct approach, or else they will see their short passing game play into Chelsea’s hands.
Carroll towers well above Blues trio David Luiz, Cesar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso, and if the England striker decides to challenge them in the air, there is only going to be one winner.
Home woes to continue
That said, Chelsea are likely to emerge victorious. They’ve only been beaten three times in the league this season – and just once since September – but West Ham will find it difficult once again playing on home soil.
Since their move to the London Stadium at the start of the season, the players simply haven’t adapted quickly enough to the new playing surface, or their new environment.
The pitch is much bigger than at Upton Park, and many of West Ham’s midfield players – such as Mark Noble and Manuel Lanzini – favour a short-based passing game, and operating in tight situations.
As a result, they are yet to hit their stride on the bigger pitch. That has left them vulnerable both at home and away.
There is no longer that fear factor at West Ham’s home patch, and they will find themselves at as much of a disadvantage as Chelsea.
Of their 13 home matches in the Premier League this season, West Ham have won just five.
- Football Insider prediction: West Ham 1-2 Chelsea
In other West Ham news, Jose Fonte has revealed why his move to the club was a no-brainer.