Following a brief ceasefire, domestic hostilities resume this weekend and, unlike the boring, bog-standard war metaphors winging their way to you this week in the wake of Tuesday’s clash with die Mannschaft, one particular fixture is tough to call.
Chelsea travel east on Saturday to take on West Ham United for another battle of the Boleyn against a side short on confidence and firepower after missing out on key striking targets this summer and suffering while deprived of the injured Andy Carroll.
But the Blues’ visit to Upton Park marks the start of a run of four away games out of five in all competitions, as trips to Basel, Sunderland and Stoke all appear in the diary over a predictably hectic 15-day spell in the run-up to the festive period.
With their opponents’ attentions forgiven for being elsewhere following another unbearably long international ebb, the hosts will hope to replicate the turnaround of last term that saw the visitors stroll into an early, Juan Mata-led ascendancy, only to concede three times after the interval as the Irons put their guests to the sword, with box-to-box dynamo Mohamed Diame to the fore during a high-tempo contest.
Having recalled former Blue Carlton Cole to help fill the void left by Carroll, however, the Hammers have since resorted to entrusting goal-scoring duties to midfield veteran Kevin Nolan and the exciting yet enigmatic Ravel Morrison, with mixed results. While the former has rarely bothered opposition stoppers, 20-year-old Morrison is currently his side’s most prolific marksman with three already – including an exquisite solo run and finish against Tottenham Hotspur last month – and has been holding his very own Goal of the Season competition in England under-21 training, too; if you haven’t seen them, cross over to Youtube as soon as you hit the by-line.
Trusting of temperament, an attribute not normally associated with the one-time Red Devil, by the two dugouts may prove pivotal in Newham, as the rivalry on show in this traditionally tense London derby is often as bitter as a Sam Allardyce “…but that’s not an excuse” concession speech, although one thing that could unite and calm both sets of supporters and staff is the absence from the team-sheet of one Frank Lampard.
Despite the Chelsea legend and talisman’s colossal record against his old club over oh-so-many seasons, the 35-year-old is showing more than glimpses of his age these days and appears ill at ease in his role as a makeshift Regista.
Meanwhile, the feeling of animosity held by Lampards senior and junior towards their former employers is well-documented: Frank Jr. claimed in his autobiography that “I wanted West Ham to lose. Now I don’t even look for their results” and hailed the day he scored his 200th Chelsea goal against his nemeses at Stamford Bridge in March as “one of my best”, as a rare header sparked a now well-established Shed End chant in its honour.
Whereas once it was written that Lampard’s shooting star would steal the show on a day such as this, now his is not so much on the wane as hurtling headlong into a black hole; his iconic image soon to be etched from the first eleven, though never the scroll of his club’s greatest servants.
In these changing times in SW6, it is left to the likes of Oscar, Mata and Eden Hazard to attempt to emulate his enviable success, should they remain sufficiently long in the mindset of their manager, Jose Mourinho, whose rotation of key personnel so far this season has at times undermined what must be considered a strong case for a Premier League title shot come May.
With West Ham outside the relegation places on goal difference alone going into this game, the Portuguese plotter and schemer will pray for a favourable outcome in the aftermath of back-to-back displays of despondency verging on dereliction from his charges.
Mata will likely play the fall-guy, particularly as this week’s excursions took the Spaniard to Equatorial Guinea, where he played all 90 minutes, before a half-hour run-out as the World Champions slipped to a slender defeat in South Africa. Either Willian, who scored for Brazil on Friday in Miami, or Andre Schurrle – fresh from just 70 minutes’ action between trips to San Siro and Wembley – will be called upon to redress the lack of attacking impetus.
Whether Ashley Cole, back in style with England, will curry favour at Bobby Moore’s primary residence or Cesar Azpilicueta continues to state his case will be intriguing. Much may depend on whether Mourinho views the occasion as of high enough importance to risk injury and fatigue to his stars ahead of an impending backlog of matches. In this very special World Cup year, you feel both sides are playing the long game.