Following the bore draw against Everton on Wednesday night, Chelsea head to West Ham this weekend for what is the first game of our final five of the season. Although winning the title is now as realistic as the FA caring about football fans, say with regards to a showpiece cup final for example, there is still plenty to play for as the weeks evaporate. Like third place. Or maybe second? Anyway, it isn’t just a trip to West Ham on Saturday, it’s also another meeting with the one and only Gianfranco Zola.
Since taking the reins in September in what was regarded as somewhat of a surprise appointment, Blues legend Zola has firmly transformed himself from ‘Blues legend Zola’ into ‘successful manager in his own right Zola’, and the Hammers currently sit in 7th place in the Premier League, with a place in next seasons Europa Cup a possibility. Whereas West Ham had picked up a reputation as a side happy to settle for mid-table mediocrity, Zola has got them playing good football with a smattering of up-and-coming youth prospects to boot.
Although results have not exactly gone the Hammers’ way in recent weeks – the last five games have yielded three draws, a defeat, and a 2-0 win over Sunderland – Zola’s desire to build for the long-term means that whatever happens between now and the end of the season, West Ham seem to be in for a bright future. And I’m still not sure if we are meant to like that or not!
Moving swiftly back to the game on Saturday and specifically the injury front, it’s West Ham who lead the Premier League injury table (the little man is even rocketing them up to the top of this table too!) with a hefty eight players out of action. Jonathan Spector, Radoslav Kovac and former Chelsea man Scott Parker are all rated as doubtful with regards to making the squad on Saturday, while Parker’s fellow ex-Blue Carlton Cole is definitely out along with Jack Collison, Valon Behrami, Dean Ashton and Danny Gabiddon.
Chelsea meanwhile will be without the obvious pair of long-term injury victims Paulo Ferreira and Joe Cole – who misses out on a return to Upton Park – while José Bosingwa may return to the side after a period on the sidelines. With Barcelona at the Nou Camp in the week, Guus Hiddink may look to shake things up a bit and rest some key players. However, 4-0 up against Bolton Wanderers a couple of weeks ago, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba are taken off, and the game ends 4-3 with Bolton unlucky not to grab a point. If that’s what happens when we rest players then maybe Guus shouldn’t gamble after all! It may be interesting to note who plays at left-back with Ashley Cole suspended for the game in Spain. Will Hiddink reveal his ’Operation Messi’ plan at Upton Park? With Jacob Mellis given a squad number and placed on the bench for the Everton game, we may even see some young faces in the match-day squad.
Whoever plays, we will have a chance to extend our good record against the Hammers. Although they did the double over us in 2002/2003, we currently lead the all-time results table by 37 wins to 36, with 17 draws between the two sides. The last time we met was back in December when one of the 17 draws was played out, with a Craig Bellamy goal cancelled out by Nicolas Anelka for a 1-1.
However, happier times occurred last year on the first day of March as Chelsea ran riot at Upton Park. Lampard opened the scoring from the penalty spot before Joe Cole, Michael Ballack, and even Ashley Cole got on the score sheet in an emphatic 4-0 win for the Blues.
While it seems we are prioritising everything but the league now, another big win would be nice! But then there’s the possibility that Zola would stop smiling, so perhaps we should take a 1-0 and be on our way. Of all the clubs he could have gone to, why did it have to be West Ham?