At last the final month of this Premier League season begins, with a journey across town to a near-empty London Stadium. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton have the close-up on this capital clash…
This is the first of three run-in matches against bottom-five clubs for Chelsea, who need a maximum 17 points from the 21 available to guarantee Champions League football next season.
Sunday’s FA Cup success at Leicester means the Blues have won the last five matches in all competitions, beating Liverpool (Premier League champions), Manchester City (currently second), and now Leicester (third). Victory at West Ham would make it a straight six in a row for the first time since October 2019, when we managed seven.
While Chelsea have failed to find the net on the past two trips to the corner of east London we visit tonight, the hosts have lost three league games in a row with no goals scored and five conceded. The Hammers are the third-least in-form team in the top flight over the past eight games and have the third-worst home record in the top flight this season. They have also lost more than half their matches at the London Stadium and conceded at least one goal in each of their past five.
‘It was a different experience with no crowd there, I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed it,’ West Ham manager David Moyes admitted after the recent loss to Wolves. ‘We missed the atmosphere, that’s what we’re going to have to get better at dealing with.’
Frank Lampard could be forgiven for welcoming the home fans’ absence after the sledging he received as young Hammer. He is seeing his squad adapt to life without the energy of travelling Blues supporters, though, injecting urgency into games themselves and carving out results.
The Blues are targeting a fourth successive away victory in a Premier League derby for the first time since 2009.
— Key Stat
Chelsea’s next three league matches are all in London – two of them derbies. The Blues have won three capital clashes on the road in a row (at Arsenal, Tottenham and Fulham last season) with a trip to Crystal Palace around the corner.
Frank Lampard’s team not only lead the way in London derbies this season, but are on course to finish as the city’s highest-placed club for the 13th time in the past 16 seasons.
By the way, two west London clubs – Brentford and Fulham – are currently in the frame to contest the Championship play-offs.
Chelsea have scored twice or more in each of our past five Premier League games, and it might have been more against Manchester City last Thursday. The Blues brilliantly executed a full-pitch plan against the second-best team in the top flight with N’Golo Kante in a more fluid anchor role.
It was the fourth time this season Chelsea have managed 10 shots on target (compared to two from the visitors) after Brighton at home (10), Watford away (the same) and Everton at the Bridge (11).
The match against the Citizens was only the second in the league this season when the opposition had more possession of the ball. The other was Tottenham, which the Blues won by the same scoreline as Thursday: 2-1.
Christian Pulisic is currently the highest-scoring player aged 21 or under in the league this season. He has scored seven goals at the rate of one every 172 minutes played. Willian’s three goals in five games have taken him to 60 for the Londoners. He is the seventh Chelsea player from overseas to reach that milestone.
Leading overseas marksmen
Didier Drogba 164
Eden Hazard 110
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink 87
Gianfranco Zola 80
Eidur Gudjohnsen 78
Salomon Kalou 60
Nicolas Anelka 59
Diego Costa 59
The unfamiliar atmosphere may be contributing to an unusual disparity in the timing of goals since the restart: in the league, just 28 per cent have been scored in the first half, with a whopping 72 per cent coming after the break. Maybe, though, the five substitutions rule is having a bigger effect than has been appreciated.
For the second half in the cup at Leicester, Frank Lampard brought on three replacements to lift his team after a ‘lethargic’ first 45. (He admitted there could have been more, or different players – so widespread was the malaise.) The result was a fine goal by one of the half-time introductions, Ross Barkley.
That was the third time since the restart that the coach’s changes have had a direct influence on the outcome of a match. In the Manchester City victory it was Tammy Abraham who earned the vital winning penalty, and at Aston Villa Pulisic scored the equaliser five minutes after coming off the bench.
Making amends for ‘shock’ home defeat
Back at the end of November, West Ham inflicted an unsettling home league defeat on Chelsea that led to jitters at the Bridge lasting until February. Had Aaron Cresswell not cut in and found a gap past Kepa Arrizabalaga, or debutant third-choice goalkeeper David Martin not kept their first clean sheet in two months, the Hammers would currently sit one from bottom in the Premier League.
That was the Irons’ first win at the Bridge in 17 seasons but they have won three of the past seven against the Blues on their own soil. The west Londoners’ last away victory in the east came in March 2017 under Antonio Conte, a brilliant performance worthy of more than the 2-1 margin of victory.
Moyes has been concerned his team have been ‘short in attacking players, short of options’ since the restart. Versatile Michail Antonio has started as a lone striker in both their matches so far, and has accounted for two of his team’s four shots on target; they are yet to find the net, though.
Key absentees have included Robert Snodgrass, who presides over most of their corners and free-kicks but has a long-term back problem, and diligent defender Angelo Ogbonna, who was on the bench last time out.
|Everton a||West Ham a||Arsenal h||Bournemouth h|
|Palace h||Watford h||Sheff Utd a||Aston Villa a|
|Arsenal a||Palace a||Everton h||Southampton h|
Following their second 2-0 defeat since the restart, West Ham are poised precariously one place above the drop zone, one of three bottom-four clubs on 27 points.
They are better off than they might have been, though. Before live matches resumed, one formula considered for resolving which teams should be relegated was to use a points-per-game formula weighted to reflect home and away results. Had that been applied, the Hammers would have copped a one-way ticket to the Championship.
Instead, as things stand the Irons are now one of six clubs who could fall through the relegation trapdoor. Good home form usually has a significant bearing on a struggling team’s survival, but with empty stadiums since the resumption only one of the endangered half-dozen has notched up a win on their own soil: Brighton against Arsenal.
Auspicious FA Cup draws continue
The remarkable pattern of Chelsea being drawn against teams we have previously beaten twice or more en route to lifting the FA Cup continues with a semi-final tie against Manchester United.
Already in the campaign the Blues have seen off Nottingham Forest (beaten in 1999/00, 2006/07), Hull City (1999/00, 2017/18), Liverpool (1996/97, 2011/12), and now Leicester (1996/97, 1999/00, 2011/12, 2016/18).
With the Red Devils, the two previous victories on the road to success came in the final itself: 2006/07 and 2017/18.
Premier League results and fixtures
Brighton 0 Man Utd 3
Arsenal v Norwich 6pm (BT Sport)
Bournemouth v Newcastle 6pm (Sky Sports)
Everton v Leicester 6pm (Sky Sports)
West Ham v Chelsea 8.15pm (Sky Sports)
Sheffield Utd v Tottenham 6pm (Sky Sports)
Man City v Liverpool 8.15pm (Sky Sports)
|17||West Ham United||31||7||6||18||35||54||-19||27|