Fortunately, Chelsea arrive at the Olympic Stadium in superb domestic form, and whilst a 1-1 draw with Atletico Madrid ensured we finished only second in our Champions League group, there is no reason to expect that three points won’t come against a side bang out of form, with a 4-0 drubbing away to fellow strugglers Everton still fresh in the memory of David Moyes.
Moyes has picked up just a solitary point from his time in charge so far and Antonio Conte should be expecting to outmanoeuvre the West Ham boss, who is doing little to escape his reputation as a manager who is simply, past-it.
Unfortunately, the failure to beat Atletico Madrid in midweek ensured we only finished second in Group C, with the uninspiring prospect of yet another trip to Paris looming large. There were some positives from the performance, however some rank bad finishing and a lapse in concentration from a set-piece meant the good work was undone, and it is noticeable that the attack is becoming ever-so reliant on the brilliance of Eden Hazard, particularly in the big games.
Another moment of skill from the Belgian brought the equaliser in midweek, while other players squandered opportunities to win the game, namely Willian and Alvaro Morata, whose finishing with his feet has been far less reliable than with his head. With Hazard in the form he is though, he should have enough individual nous and quality to undo the West Ham defence regardless of the profligate finishing of his colleagues.
While Hazard is dazzling his way through the season, there is another player impressing everybody at Stamford Bridge. I have spoken before about the assuredness of Andreas Christensen at the heart of the defence, and yet again in midweek he proved his class.
He is emerging, if he isn’t already, as one of Europe’s best central defenders and alongside Cesar Azpilicueta, there is a superbly reliable core to the defensive unit. Christensen is finally filling the void of an academy prospect breaking into the first-team, which if nothing else, should shut some people up about the use of our academy and the loan system which comes with that.
The Danish defender is beginning to excel and it is impossible not to be impressed by his reading of the game, and calmness on the ball, and his continued presence in the starting XI ahead of more senior figures in the dressing room is testament to his form, while Conte paid him the compliment of being substituted to a standing ovation in the victory over Newcastle.
Who to watch
Christensen and co will have to watch out for Lanzini, a diminutive playmaker who is always looking to make things happen in attack. While he is not in great form presently, his creative influence will be important for West Ham as they fight in a relegation battle.
He is the type of player who, especially against top opposition where possession is less frequent, can provide a moment of inspiration, while his general style of play has seen comparisons with Philippe Coutinho. While clearly not on the level of Coutinho, Lanzini’s similar, creative style can provide the best defences with problems, and he has already notched a couple of goals in previous encounters against us.
Conte has favoured the 3-5-2 system in recent weeks, and with the form of Hazard in a free role behind Morata, it would, in my view, be foolish to err away from this system. This means the positions of contention will be in midfield, with Conte deciding between the out-of-form Tiemoue Bakayoko and Danny Drinkwater, who is beginning to look more comfortable as a Chelsea player.
The rest of the side almost picks itself, and I expect the same team which started the victory over Newcastle to be named here in a 3-5-2: Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Cahill; Moses, Kante, Fabregas, Drinkwater, Alonso; Morata, Hazard.
Anything less than three points will be a disappointing result here. I am confident we will secure a victory, although the Hammers’ valiant defeat at Manchester City last weekend proves nothing can be taken for granted.
A repeat of last season’s 2-1 scoreline could be a good bet here, while the more adventurous option may be a heavier margin of victory, and a 4-0 win with Eden Hazard on the scoresheet at any time could be close to the mark if there is an early Chelsea goal.