Chelsea and West Ham have never really had the most hostile of relationships – admittedly mirrored to a hyperbolic level by their respective fans – and the strains have continue this past weekend with the controversy over Steve Clarke joining the Hammers as Gianfranco Zola’s Assistant Manager (or not, it remains to be seen). On Monday evening at Griffin Park, the two teams go head to head at Reserve level in a match that will likely be as hard-fought as negotiations for Clarke have been.
Brendan Rodgers’ boys – and it is boys as the team gets ever younger – started their season with a bang on September 1st. They came back from a goal behind away to a very strong Arsenal team to win 3-2. Didier Drogba may have played an hour but strong performances from some of the shining lights in the club’s academy lend a great confidence not only for the year ahead, but the years to come.
It must be stressed, though, that the same can be said for last season. Then, Rodgers’ Reserves kicked off the year with a dominant 4-0 win at Portsmouth followed by a 3-1 win over Derby. They didn’t win again for 11 games and almost seven months. The primary cause for concern during that spell was a lack of goalscoring talent and depth in the squad with a number of players leaving on loan, and whilst those concerns can still be pointed at, the team at its strongest will be a contender.
Franco Di Santo arrived at the club at the end of January and immediately helped the Reserves turn their fortunes around. The Blues lost just one of the seven matches he featured in, as he tallied seven goals to make the end of the year an impressive one. With his absence from the match squad for the senior trip to Manchester City, it’s not hard to imagine that he’ll be donning the number 9 shirt on Monday night and leading the line.
Elsewhere in blue, despite the absence of the likes of Sahar, Smith, Bertrand, Cummings, Taiwo and Sawyer on loan, the team will be strong. Rhys Taylor will be expected to keep goal behind a likely back four including Nana Ofori-Twumasi, Jeffrey Bruma, and Carl Magnay. Patrick van Aanholt picked up an injury on Under 19 duty and is uncertain, but Michael Mancienne is available if the back four needs to be shuffled. The midfield should be more certain, as Liam Bridcutt, Jacob Mellis and Sergio Tejera are all available. Alongside Di Santo up front, expect the flying pace of wingers Scott Sinclair and Miroslav Stoch, with Fábio Paim waiting in the wings.
West Ham had a very strong season at this level last year, finishing second in the League South and are coming in confident after a 4-0 win over Norwich City last week. With Zola possibly being in attendance to watch his new charges at this level, there will be extra incentive for Kevin Keen’s boys to impress. Jack Jeffery scored twice in the win over the Canaries, and alongside Zavon Hines and Freddie Sears offers a potent attacking threat. Marek Stech is the Hammers’ own young talented Czech goalkeeper whilst James Tomkins impressed in the Premiership last season. Jordan Spence is likely to be missing injured at the back, as is long-term injury casualty Jack Collison.
This fixture at the back end of last season finished 3-0 to a mixed Blues team, with goals from Claudio Pizarro, Fabio Ferreira and Jack Saville. Kick off is at 7pm at Brentford’s Griffin Park stadium. Admission is just £5 for adults and £3 for juniors / senior citizens (cash at the turnstiles) and is free for Chelsea Season Ticket holders on production of their card. Why not go along and support the Blues? In terms of getting to Griffin Park, the nearest train station is Brentford, which can be reached by a regular service from Waterloo and Clapham Junction. By tube, Gunnersbury is about one mile from the ground on the District Line. A match report will follow either late Monday night, or on Tuesday