There it is again, swooping in from out of the blue, just when you thought it had disappeared for another season. It was long gone, completely out of our minds, and just like that, two specific results bring it back, audaciously and completely unexpectedly. Newcastle United 0-0 Manchester United followed by Chelsea 3-1 Birmingham. Ladies and gentleman, we have hope again.
Inexplicably, we are still very much in the Premier League title race. After all the twists and turns of this rollercoaster campaign, we have managed to contain our vomit and hang on for dear life, sitting proudly in second place in the table just six points behind a Manchester United side we are still yet to play. There’s one thing worse than no hope if you’re a Chelsea fan, and that’s hope.
With just five games left to turn our season on its head, we welcome West Ham United to Stamford Bridge with the East London side firmly entrenched in a relegation fight, stuck as they are in 19th place, two points away from safety.
Avram Grant’s side put in a gutsy first-half performance at home to Manchester United recently, going into the half-time break 2-0 up, but completely capitulated at the hands of Wayne Rooney in the second 45, eventually throwing the game away 4-2 and losing a lot of sympathy from Blues fans watching worldwide.
A recent mini-revival which featured back-to-back league wins over Liverpool and Stoke has given way to another bleak period which has been more befitting of their campaign overall; defeat against the Potters in the FA Cup was followed by a draw against Spurs and three defeats in the league, including last weekend’s loss at home to Aston Villa.
West Ham have only won two away league games so far this season – beating Blackpool and Fulham, two sides on the slide – and have almost conceded exactly double the goals (31) they have managed on the road (16).
The Hammers are only missing Junior Stanislas through injury, with the youngster out of action with an Osteitis Pubis complaint. Your guess is as good as mine. Carlton Cole, meanwhile, will lead the line against his former club, although he may be a little red-faced as comments he recently made on Twitter were pounced upon by the Secret Police, sorry, the FA, leading to a £20k fine.
Chelsea may still be without Ramires and Alex, who were both missing from Wednesday’s win over Birmingham with hamstring injuries, although Carlo Ancelotti may be tempted to go with the same side after an impressive team performance. Didier Drogba has made himself undroppable once again, while even Salomon Kalou would be difficult to replace after his spectacular individual goal. Ashley Cole’s substitution against Birmingham means that Petr Cech is now the only Chelsea player to feature in every minute of every Premier League game this season.
The home side go into the game against West Ham with an unbeaten record stretching back to 3rd May 2003, when a Paolo di Canio goal proved to be the difference between the two sides. Embarrassingly, the Hammers managed to do the double over Chelsea that season, winning 3-2 at Stamford Bridge.
Back in September, however, two goals from Michael Essien and another strike by Kalou saw the Blues win 3-1 at Upton Park, with former Chelsea midfielder and undoubted star of the season Scott Parker bagging a consolation for West Ham late on. It was his second goal in as many games against the Blues.
Expectations are high where once they were scant; hope is real where once it was unthinkable; a trophy is in reach where once it was out of our hands. United host Everton at lunchtime – typically a fixture which only yields one outcome. If that happens, hopes fade for another week at least; if we don’t negotiate our way past a West Ham side who should be fighting for their Premier League lives on Saturday, hope will be all but gone. Again. No doubt returning next time United slip up!