West Ham face a tough task to keep their Premier League turnaround on track on Monday when they host runaway Premier League leaders Chelsea at the London Stadium.
The Hammers can take some confidence from their League Cup win over their London rivals earlier this season, when they were 2-1 winners at home back in October. However, since then Antonio Conte’s side have opened up a ten point lead atop the Premier League table and look a dead cert to claim the title for a second time in three years.
Slaven Bilic will be looking to see his side bounce back from a disappointing 1-1 draw with Watford last weekend, in which, having gone one down early on, their second half performance certainly deserved three points.
Their opponents come into the tie having beaten a resurgent Swansea 3-1 at Stamford Bridge, however, the east Londoners will know where they can hurt Conte’s side.
Bilic has said it is ‘realistic’ rather than ‘optimistic’ that they will have their key man Andy Carroll back fit for the Monday Night Football clash.
The former Liverpool and Newcastle man has been in fine form since the turn of the year, however, was forced to sit out the last two games against both West Brom and Watford, having been hauled off at Middlesbrough and Southampton with a concern over a groin niggle.
However, with the target man looking good to be back in the fold on Monday night, he can make a real difference to breaking down the imperious Chelsea back line.
The Blues’ loss to Tottenham at White Hart Lane showed the weakest areas in that back five, an area which Carroll is perfectly equipped to exploit.
The England international, who has been linked with a return to Gareth Southgate’s side, will be looking to use his height and power to cause the likes of the less imposing Victor Moses and Cesar Azpilicueta plenty of problems at the far post, whilst avoiding having to face both Gary Cahill and David Luiz in the air.
While scoring goals against Chelsea is not that Hammers only worry, playing at home they must look to utilise Carroll at every opportunity, given that Conte’s side have scored in every game this season, bar two, in all competitions.
Furthermore, given the absence of Michail Antonio, who is suspended after being sent off at Vicarage Road last weekend, Bilic will be looking to Carroll to be his main attacking threat.
The Hammers are unlikely to be able to break down Conte’s back five playing with attacking play on the floor, thus must follow the lead of fellow Londoners by looking to find the space between the two smaller full-backs.
Should Bilic’s side manage to find flaws in the Chelsea blueprint and pick up a memorable win to halt their charge to the title, the Hammers’ turnaround in form this season would be almost complete