A trip to the far east awaits Chelsea tomorrow afternoon, although for the player’s sakes let’s hope they have an easier journey than that which the 3,000 travelling Blues will have to undertake. With both the District and Hammersmith and City lines closed, Chelsea fans are being forced to improve their knowledge of the key East End bus routes and which ones can get them close to the Boleyn Ground. The club recommends alighting at Canning Town (Jubilee Line/DLR) and walking.
If the players show the same commitment as their followers then Chelsea really should have no problems against West Ham. The Hammers have endured anything but a happy start to the campaign, having failed to register a point in their opening three games, and with their sole goal coming from the penalty spot in a 3-1 reverse to Bolton Wanderers. They did manage to beat Oxford United in the Carling Cup, although even then it took a 90th minute winner to see off the League 2 U’s. Chelsea meanwhile head into the fixture in imperious form, with a 100% winning record (now the only one left in the country) and having yet to concede. You have to travel back to April 17th for the last time Chelsea both lost a game and conceded a goal in the league.
The fixture comes on the back of an international break, with surprisingly minimal Chelsea involvement. Frank Lampard and John Terry were both injured for England’s brace of victories, but look set to return to Upton Park for their traditional warm welcome. Didier Drogba didn’t feature for Ivory Coast (but did travel to Abidjan to watch them win and Salomon Kalou score) whilst Michael Essien was missing from Ghana’s team. Branislav Ivanovic remains injured, while Florent Malouda enjoyed being captain and scoring for France but probably didn’t like his nation’s home defeat to Belarus quite so much. The Blues must be wary of a sluggish return to club football after an international break; last season we laboured to 2-1 wins against Hull and Stoke and lost to Villa following the opening breaks of the 2009/10 campaign.
Indeed last season one of our poorer performances came at Upton Park before Christmas. We eventually secured a 1-1 draw following a controversial Lampard penalty, but in that game the Hammers really rose to the challenge of facing the league leaders and local rivals and limited Chelsea to very little in front of goal. In the end a point seemed like a decent result, but it marked one of Chelsea’s poorer away performances last season. Now it marks a chance for the Blues to improve their points tally from last season, having already done so with a win at Wigan.
That day the opposition bench housed Gianfranco Zola; tomorrow Avram Grant will be Carlo Ancelotti’s opposite number. The Israeli has suffered a torrid start to his tenure as manager and already faces criticism from the notoriously hard-to-please East enders. His summer signings, including Frederic Piquionne, a scorer against Chelsea last season, and Pablo Barrera, a feature at this summer’s World Cup, have yet to shine, but Grant would like nothing more than to prove his doubters wrong by putting one over his former club.
With Ivanovic out Paulo Ferreira can expect to keep his place at right-back and Grant may try to use the pace of Barrera and Keiron Dyer to expose the recently-retired Portuguese and but the away team on the back foot. His 4-5-1 formation is designed to frustrate and with Parker bound to excel against his former club an early goal would unsettle the Hammers and possibly open the floodgates; without that the Blues will find the going tricky, even if they are unbeaten against West Ham since 2003. Chris Foy will officiate what is usually a bad-tempered affair, for which around 2,000 tickets in the home end remain unsold.