Chelsea will need a much-improved performance against West Ham if they are to come away from the London Stadium with victory
Chelsea haven’t often enjoyed their visits to the London Stadium. In the Blues’ six previous matches at West Ham United’s new home in all competitions, only twice have they come away with victory.
So Thomas Tuchel could’ve done without the trip from west to east London tomorrow. Not just because of Chelsea’s poor record at what was the Olympic Stadium but because of mounting injury issues.
Against Watford in midweek, there was no Ben Chilwell, Reece James, N’Golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic in the travelling party. Jorginho, meanwhile, had to be contained to the bench, as did Timo Werner, due to fitness concerns.
And to further complicate things for Tuchel, Saul Niguez dropped another dismal display on his second Premier League start and Trevoh Chalobah – who was drafted into midfield to replace the Spaniard at half time – suffered a hamstring injury and limped off at Vicarage Road.
“There will not be much training going on tomorrow,” Tuchel told Chelsea’s in-house media on Wednesday night after the 2-1 victory at Vicarage Road.
“We will sleep well, recover well. The physios need to do an excellent job now to make everyone half-ready for Saturday.”
Tuchel has never been afraid to make changes to his starting XI; he has made 50 in Chelsea’s opening 14 Premier League fixtures this term. So rotation is expected for tomorrow’s lunchtime kick-off.
And here are four changes, fitness permitting, we feel the Chelsea head coach has to make to ensure the Blues claim another important three points and remain top of the Premier League table come Saturday evening.
Silva for Chalobah
Given the performances of the academy graduate this term, it was disappointing to see Chalobah hobble off on Wednesday evening. The severity of the issue is not yet known with the 22-year-old set to undergo a scan today.
Chalobah will almost certainly be ruled out of the clash against David Moyes’ side, however, and that should mean Thiago Silva takes his place in the middle of the back three.
The 37-year-old has played far more football this term than many anticipated but Tuchel did try to rest Silva against Watford. But he was introduced at half-time to bring a sense of order to what had been a shaky Chelsea defence.
Silva’s quality helped settle the entire team and he will be an invaluable presence in the middle of the back three at what is likely to be a fervent London Stadium.
James for Azpilicueta
It was something of a surprise that James wasn’t involved against Watford given he had trained the previous day. Yet that absence should mean he is able to face the Irons.
Without the academy graduate in the side – and Chilwell also ruled out until at least January – Chelsea’s threat from wing-back was diminished.
Azpilicueta came into the starting XI in place of James and while still a fine defender, the 32-year-old lacks the physicality to play the role as effectively as James. The Spaniard isn’t as swift across the ground, isn’t as good at escaping pressure, and doesn’t have the same energy when breaking into the final third.
Chelsea’s club captain is also far less of a goal threat. James has struck four times in the Premier League this season and has been a reliable threat at the back post. Rather tellingly, Azpilicueta registered just two touches in the Watford penalty area on Wednesday night.
Jorginho for Saul
There is little point piling in on Saul. Yes, his second Premier League start ended in the same fashion as the first: a half-time substitution. And yes, he has looked strangely out of his depth in the Chelsea side. But none of that is for the lack of trying.
Yet having kept Jorginho safely wrapped up among the Blues substitutes against Watford, the Italian must be brought back into the starting XI against West Ham.
Chelsea were unable to play out of defence without the Italian in their side at Vicarage Road as the Hornets swarmed forward and pressed high. His inclusion would give the Blues far more structure and composure in possession, something they will need to overcome West Ham, who are fourth in the table.
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Hudson-Odoi for Pulisic
Prior to Wednesday night’s game, Hudson-Odoi had started Chelsea’s previous eight matches and not one of those had ended in defeat.
Of course, opponents in that run included Norwich City and Malmo, but Hudson-Odoi impressed and got on the scoresheet against Juventus and looked sharp against Manchester United, although he should’ve scored an early goal.
An underappreciated trait of Hudson-Odoi’s game is his ability to control an attack. Few 21-year-old attackers are aware when to speed up possession and when to be more patient in the final third. That is something Chelsea lacked against Watford and will be needed to overcome West Ham.
Pulisic has proved time and time again he is a reliable threat off the bench and the American also needs to be handled carefully after spending the best part of three months out with an ankle injury.