It might not be the end of the season yet, but it sure feels that way, doesn’t it? With eight matches left to play, this Chelsea/West Ham encounter at Stamford Bridge on Saturday just seems a bit of a non-event, at least from a Chelsea perspective.
The Blues start the last eight matches of the season basically hanging in mid-table limbo. The Blues sit in 10th place, and having lost the Champions League to PSG and FA Cup to Everton in the span of four days, the Blues have pretty much seen their season end by mid-March.
Sure, a challenge for fourth place is still mathematically possible, but with Chelsea 11 points behind Manchester City and six league positions, the chances of that happening is slim to none.
More reasonable is a challenge for sixth place in the league and a spot in next year’s Europa League, and a win against West Ham would go along way towards making that a reality.
For West Ham, they’ll be hoping to avoid that defeat, and perhaps even a draw, as their season is far from over and their dream isn’t over just yet. West Ham sit in fifth place, just two points behind Manchester City, and with the Manchester Derby to be played on Sunday, a win for West Ham could take them one step closer to making a place in next year’s Champions League a reality.
Certainly that will please the West Ham owners, David Gold and David Sullivan. They, and a lot of the supporters, will have dreamt of christening their move to the Olympic Stadium next season with Champions League football, and they are very close to doing so.
Slaven Bilic has taken over the reins of this club after the departure of Sam Allardyce and has done an exceptional job in taking this club to fifth this season. He’s had to deal with a number of injuries, both to his forwards and more recently to his centre backs, with James Tomkins still on the sidelines with a calf problem.
Slowly, however, West Ham have seen the returns of Enner Valencia and Winston Reid from injury, and they’ve simply added to a squad that have lost just twice in their last 16 matches in the Premier League.
But you can’t talk about West Ham without talking about the importance of Dimitri Payet this season. The former Marseille player joined West Ham this past summer and his impact has been undeniable. He’s played a hand in 15 of West Ham’s 45 Premier League goals this season and has given them a legitimate match-winning threat, one that wasn’t at Allardyce’s disposal last season.
For the West Ham match, the Blues will be without Diego Costa who’s serving a suspension from his sending off against Everton last Saturday and Eden Hazard who’s nursing a hip injury that could keep him out for up to four weeks.
This leaves Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink with some interesting choices for his team selection on Saturday, especially at striker, where Bertrand Traore has impressed the Dutchman as of late and has been preferred ahead of Loic Remy. Alexandre Pato has yet to be involved.
Hiddink has stated that it will be a chance for some of the youngsters to see match time, but how much he’s actually telling the truth is unknown. The promise of playing youth has been made this season, but only Traore has forced his way into meaningful playing time in the second half of the season.
The most likely scenario is that these last eight matches become an audition for next season. The next Chelsea manager has yet to be confirmed, but Hiddink will likely offer his opinions to the Chelsea hierarchy about the players currently at the club.
Whether that shapes the new manager’s thinking remains to be seen, but the least the players can do in these last eight matches is plays as if they’re fighting for their futures at the club.