West Ham welcome Chelsea to the London Stadium tonight aiming to maintain their excellent recent record against the league leaders.
The 2-1 victory over Antonio Conte’s side in the EFL Cup earlier in the season was fully deserved, although overcoming Chelsea this evening will be a far sterner test than the one they faced in October by Slaven Bilic’s men.
Not only will the Blues field their strongest team, the Hammers also appear slightly weaker with Michail Antonio banned and Andy Carroll a doubt.
It would have been great to see Antonio test this Chelsea system, as he is one of the few players physically able to push the Chelsea defence back.
The loss of Antonio could be compensated, somewhat, if Carroll is available, as he has the tools to dismantle the Chelsea defence who have struggled defending crosses of late.
Cross with quality
What do the goals scored against Chelsea by Hammers’ Cheikhou Kouyate, Spurs’ Dele Alli and Swansea’s Fernando Llorente have in common?
They were all headers.
Against a back three the spaces can be huge when delivering into the box and with the quality that Mark Noble and Robert Snodgrass have at their disposal, I expect the ball to be aimed between the spaces that inevitably open up once the Chelsea defence has shifted.
Noble here has one thought in his mind and that is to put the Chelsea defence under pressure.
With no one taking responsibility to pick up Kouyate, he was able to make the first contact and score with a fabulous header.
Cross with quality
When Chelsea were comprehensively beaten by Spurs 2-0 at the turn of the year, Dele Alli grabbed the headlines with two brilliant headers.
Both goals came via crosses from deep positions, and although West Ham lack the speed to get behind this Chelsea side, they do have the quality to cross from deep as Spurs did.
Chelsea appear poorly organised at set plays as witnessed here against Swansea on Saturday.
As you can see from the image above, with Swansea sending up their big guns, Gary Cahill and David Luiz were in total disarray over who was marking who.
Chelsea still hadn’t organised the marking by the time Gylfi Sigurdsson swung the ball in and Fernando Llorente headed home.
Hopeful for the Hammers
It will take an enormous effort to get a positive result tonight, against a Chelsea side full of confidence, however, there is plenty of optimism to be had if the Hammers nail down their delivery into the box.
However, Chelsea will be expecting Carroll to start and won’t make the same mistakes as they did against Spurs.
I think the Blues defence will be much more aggressive in their box and mark Carroll very closely, which will create space elsewhere, so it is then up to West Ham to find the right option.