Sam Allardyce’s regenerated West Ham side travel to Chelsea with cheers of “ole” ringing in their ears, a new West Ham for a new era. Or as Big Sam put it: “We’ll see what century we’re in when we finish there.” These sides played out to a goalless draw at Stamford Bridge last season with the Special One criticising Allardyce of playing defensive “football from the 19th century” which caused a stir between the two teams. The Hammers have found time to entertain us this season with their free-flowing football but the Blues, who have certainly lit up the Premier League will be hoping to entertain them. It’s Boxing Day and these local rivals will be throwing punches all game which should serve up an entertaining clash.
If this Chelsea team aren’t already Mourinho’s greatest creation then they’re certainly heading that way. The Blues are top of the table and last weekend bounced back to winning ways with a comfortable 2-0 win over Hull City. The Blues may not be invincible as we witnessed in their shocking 2-1 defeat at Newcastle, but their incredible home form does argue that they have been unconquerable having won all eight of their matches played at Stamford Bridge, scoring a superb 20 goals while conceding only three. Although Mourinho finished his first season back at Chelsea without a trophy, it seems 2014 will be an important year towards his more long-term goals. The Blues manager has managed to reshape his squad into one that looks capable of becoming a dominant force – at home and in Europe. Anyone looking for loose threads in this Chelsea team is wasting their time. The Special One has assembled an Extra Special side. At the back, Thibaut Courtois is even better than Petr Cech, up front Diego Costa has more than lived up to his price tag and in between Cesc Fabregas’ form since his return to London has had many an Arsenal fan crying themselves to sleep. This is an ominously good side but this is also the best West Ham side in ages.
The end of 2014 could not be much more of a contrast to the start. Big Sam looked to be heading for the sack in January, but has turned things around amazingly and is finishing the year with West Ham dreaming of European qualification. The Hammers beat Leicester City 2-0 last weekend to ensure they will be fourth on Christmas Day in their best start since the 1985-86 season, when they ended up finishing third. Matches at Chelsea and Arsenal in the space of three days will be a fierce examination of a rejuvenated side. From front to back, the team are exuding confidence and ability at the moment, with Stewart Downing’s second goal against Leicester summing up the mood around the club perfectly, as he took one touch to control Diafra Sakho’s knock down before curling home a sweet shot from distance – then wheeled away with a massive smile on his face. It’s the season to be jolly and Hammers fans have every right to be merry. West Ham have shown themselves to be too good for joint leaders Manchester City (at the time of writing), so the prospect of playing Chelsea is one to be relished. If West Ham are as good as their fans think, and they want to live up to the boasts of the songs they are singing, the only thing to do is to test themselves against the best, to see if it’s true. Chelsea are the best.
Courtois; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Luis; Fabregas, Matic; Willian, Oscar, Hazard; Costa
West Ham: 4-3-1-2
Adrian; Jenkinson, Tomkins, Reid, Cresswell; Song, Kouyate, Nolan; Downing; Sakho, Carroll
Chelsea have beaten West Ham 12 times in their last 16 meetings with three draws, suffering just one defeat, a stat that does not bode well for the Hammers. The Blues look an irresistible force at home, winning all their matches. They have the best defence in the league along with Southampton having conceded 13 goals in 16 games with only three of those coming at Stamford Bridge. West Ham should put up a good fight but should get outclassed by a star-studded Chelsea side.
Written by Chadley Nagel