The run of London derbies ends for Thomas Tuchel’s squad with a west versus east encounter. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton hope of home improvements…
Chelsea have the neighbours (West Ham) round for Sunday roast this weekend as the Premier League enters its last month. This is also the final all-London fling of the campaign for the Blues and a chance to bounce back from the dodgy midweek fare. For the Hammers it is a mere aperitif ahead of their European semi-final banquet.
Wednesday’s derby against Arsenal brought Stamford Bridge the unwelcome statistic of a third consecutive home defeat across all competitions for the first time since November 1993 (when the Gunners were again the third visitors).
The Blues now face eight games over four weeks to achieve two vital targets, the success of which will define our season. Four of them will be played at the Bridge, where hospitality towards our guests has been far too generous this month. Once again, because of the UK government licence, only season ticket holders and away supporters will be present.
All the same, the world champions remain on course to claim a Champions League place in May and have won six of the past eight Premier League outings. And Chelsea have lost just one of our past 15 Premier League encounters with the Irons at home, winning 10 and drawing four.
This season the east-enders have also tasted defeat in three of their four London derbies on the road, and have lost three away fixtures in a row. David Moyes has not tasted victory in 16 previous top-flight trips to the Fulham Road as a coach.
Chelsea team news
The home loss to Arsenal was another hurtful reminder of the sudden and unexpected fallibility that has scuppered our early title challenge. While Chelsea occupy the third rung on the ladder of big goalscoring chances missed (44), we occupy third position for most errors leading directly to goals (5), behind only relegation-haunted Everton and Watford.
The match against West Ham at London Stadium back in December told a similar tale. The Blues enjoyed two-thirds possession and outgunned the Irons on overall shots and those on target, but still ended up frustrated at a 2-3 loss.
Just as in midweek, Thomas Tuchel felt the Blues had gifted goals to the hosts through individual mistakes, and made wholesale changes for the next match in St Petersburg.
Minor positives to be taken from midweek included the continued resurgence of Timo Werner, whose deflected opener was his fourth in as many games (plus two assists) and Cesar Azpipilcueta making it two goals in four league games against the Gunners.
The Bavarian has reported the game comes too early for Toni Rudiger and Mateo Kovacic to have recovered from injury, but there may be returns to the starting line-up for Trevoh Chalobah, Thiago Silva, Christian Pulisic, Hakim Ziyech or Kai Havertz. The Blues are not action again until Thursday’s trip to Manchester United, and the Hammers have huge defensive worries ahead of their European semi-final the same night.
It would be wholly understandable were West Ham’s current main focus to be on the first leg of Thursday’s Europa League clash with Eintracht Frankfurt at the London Stadium, their first European semi-final since 1976 – against the same opposition. While they could still claim a Europa League merit place through league results, winning that competition this year carries the prize of Champions League football next season.
David Moyes has been conservative in team selection. Only two coaches have drawn on fewer players in the league than the 25 he has used this season: Crystal Palace (24) and Burnley (23).
Critically, the Scot is now running out of centre-backs, with first-choice pairing – former Chelsea player Kurt Zouma and experienced Italian Angelo Ogbonna – joined on the sidelines by Issa Diop.
It will require creativity to assemble a central defence, especially a three, as used successfully in the reverse fixture against us. Options include redeploying full-backs Ben Johnson and Aaron Cresswell either side of Craig Dawson in the heart of defence, with Vladimir Coufal and Arthur Masuaku as wing-backs, Declan Rice dropping back, or PL2 centre-half Aji Alese making only his second senior appearance this season.
After a blistering start in front of goal, lone striker Michail Antonio has not struck in the league since 1 January, and his most recent assist came in February. Over the same period Jarrod Bowen, one of the heroes of their European quarter-final against Lyon with a goal in each leg, has netted six in the top flight.
Arguably the duo most in need of a rest before the Europa League push are central midfielders Tomas Soucek and Declan Rice, yet both make the Hammers tick. Veteran Iron Mark Noble and usual no.10 Manuel Lanzini would be Moyes’ other options in that area.
We have history
Ninety years ago next month Stamford Bridge witnessed a result that resonated for decades. Syd King’s West Ham, along with Grimsby and Blackpool, were desperately scrambling to avoid the drop from Division One, and led 1-0 by half-time. At which point the pitchside score system revealed the other two would-be escapologists were leading too.
Then straight after the break Chelsea midfielder Willie Ferguson equalised, and Bill Russell and George Pearson put the Pensioners in charge at 3-1. A last-minute goal for the Irons proved insufficient, and west London had consigned the east end to relegation. It would be 26 years before the Hammers returned to the Fulham Road.
The Hammers won our away fixture this season in early December 3-2. Chelsea led twice through Thiago Silva’s header and a Mason Mount volley, but man of the match Jarrod Bowen won a penalty converted by Manuel Lanzini, then fired in from distance himself. In the closing minutes Arthur Masuaku scored a freakish winner from the touchline.
Race for Champions League places
Finishing in the top four is still very much in Chelsea’s hands as the Blues have a five-point advantage over Arsenal in fifth, despite the further setback on Wednesday.
The two teams with the best chance of dislodging the Blues, the Gunners and fourth-placed Tottenham, will meet in the north London derby on 12 May, clipping at least two points off the maximum available to one or both of them. Coupled with the west Londoners’ superior goal difference, a return of 11 points from the 21 still on offer should secure top four.
This week, as Chelsea face our final all-London fixture of the season, it was confirmed that our closest neighbours Fulham have secured promotion, resuming the most-played west London rivalry (75 games). In total there will be six west London derbies next season, the most since 2011/12 when the Blues, the Cottagers, and Queen’s Park Rangers were the contestants.
Results from a small nationwide fans survey in 2012/13 suggested no near-neighbour was considered a chief rival by Blues supporters (instead it was Arsenal and Tottenham), while Brentford cited QPR and Fulham, and Whites fans picked Chelsea and QPR.
Following last weekend’s FA Cup semi-final, we now know Chelsea will play 63 fixtures this season.
That is some way shy of the all-time club record of 69 completed by the Blues in 2012/13 (the last time we contested the Club World Cup) and falls just short of the 64 the Londoners fulfilled in 2006/07, the season we last reached both domestic cup finals.
Most Chelsea fixtures in one season69 2012/1364 2006/0763 2018/19, 2021/2262 2007/0861 1999/00, 2011/1260 1965/66, 1970/71
Thiago Silva’s participation from the bench on Wednesday makes him Chelsea’s oldest outfield player in the modern era. Further back in time right-winger Dickie Spence’s last appearance for the Pensioners on 13 September 1947 against Bolton came at the ripe old age of 39 years and 58 days. He even set up Ken Armstrong’s opener with a free-kick.
Our beloved Brazil defender also holds the record as most senior Premier League goalscorer, the January header against Tottenham (aged 37 years and 74 days) extending his lead over this week’s Premier League Hall of Fame addition Didier Drogba (37 years, 49 days). All three of Thiago’s goals this season have come in London derbies, including West Ham in December.
Chelsea’s winning exit from Europe’s elite competition at the Bernabeu has a few consolations. The campaign, which saw the Blues bow out in the quarter-finals having won seven of our 10 games and drawn one, raised our UEFA club coefficient (accumulated over the past five years) to 123 points, the fourth best across the continent. That would guarantee a place in Pot 2 of the 2022/23 group stage draw, for which the Londoners remain on course to qualify.
UEFA club coefficients 2017/18-present1 Bayern Munich 1382 Manchester City 1323 Liverpool 1294 Chelsea 1235 Real Madrid 119The prize money will not be close to last season’s – as winners – but is a welcome windfall nonetheless. Up to the quarter finals, taking in prize money for wins, draws and rounds reached, the Blues earned around £41 million.
On top of that UEFA hands out a ‘coefficient-based amount’, which as things stand would represent roughly £27 million, plus a share of the TV money handed to participating English clubs from the overall £250 million broadcast rights pool. UEFA has predicted this income will rise 40 per cent for the 2024/25 season.
Premier League fixtures
SaturdayArsenal v Man Utd 12.30pm (BT Sport)Leicester v Aston Villa 3pmMan City v Watford 3pmNorwich v Newcastle 3pmBrentford v Tottenham 5.30pm (Sky Sports)
SundayBrighton v Southampton 2pmBurnley v Wolves 2pmChelsea v West Ham 2pm (Sky Sports)Liverpool v Everton 4.30pm (Sky Sports)
MondayCrystal Palace v Leeds 8pm (Sky Sports)