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17:30 Saturday – West Ham v Chelsea
Sky Sports Main Event / Sky Sports Premier League
West Ham’s Champions League hopes took a major dent last week when they self-imploded in a 3-2 loss to Newcastle. That defeat was an accident waiting to happen considering David Moyes’s side had done their level best to throw away three-goal leads in successive games against Arsenal, Wolves and Leicester – successfully throwing them away against the Gunners.
The concession of 10 goals in four games is not a defensive record commonly associated with Champions League clubs and they desperately need to plug their backline if they are to beat Chelsea and reclaim their place in the top four.
However, Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea look back to their boring selves following a bizarre week that saw them lose 5-2 to West Brom and beat Crystal Palace 4-1. Those two games aside, Chelsea have not scored more than two goals in a game under Tuchel and they had not conceded more than one.
Their most recent games – a 1-0 win over Manchester City in the FA Cup and a 0-0 draw with Brighton that no one paid attention to – showed a return to normality for Tuchel’s side. They will stifle most of the attacking threats of The Hammers and exploit their vulnerable defence when opportunities present themselves.
Tuchel’s early success at Chelsea has been predicated on defensive resilience. The Blues have kept a staggering 15 clean sheets in 20 games in all competitions since Tuchel took the reins and only the mighty Porto, Sheffield United, West Brom, Crystal Palace, and Southampton have managed to breach the Chelsea defence.
Only three of Tuchel’s 13 Premier League games in charge have resulted in more than 2.5 goals and he will set up to frustrate West Ham’s goal-happy attack by controlling possession and territory.
West Ham, meanwhile, are likely to forego their recent gung-ho approach in favour of a more pragmatic system such as the one they employed in fixtures against Manchester United and Liverpool.
David Moyes is likely to stay on the side of caution in a game of such magnitude and Chelsea may have an easier job keeping the Hammers out than Arsenal or Leicester did.
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Mason Mount has emerged as one of Tuchel’s key lieutenants since the German took over at Stamford Bridge in late January. Mount has provided several standout performances during Tuchel’s short reign and chipped in with hugely important goals in victories over Liverpool in the Premier League and Porto in the Champions League.
Mount has scored five times since Tuchel took over, with four of his goals coming away from Stamford Bridge. With the exception of a late consolation against West Brom, all of his goals have come at pivotal moments in finely balanced games, and he could strike in similar circumstances on Saturday.
West Ham’s previous outings against elite opposition indicate that the first half will be a very tight affair on Saturday. David Moyes has opted for a more conservative approach against the likes of Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool this season, resulting in some truly cagey opening 45 minutes.
The first half of West Ham’s 1-0 defeat at Old Trafford last month, for example, was as tepid and as dour as any half of football this year.
The Hammers showed a similar lack of ambition in the opening 45 minutes against Liverpool in an attempt to stymie the Red’s front three.
In seven games against City, United, Liverpool and Chelsea, West Ham have conceded just three first half goals. They are yet to concede a first half goal at home against any of those clubs. Chelsea may have to bide their time on Saturday.
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