The Boxing Day battles will begin with the matchup between Chelsea and West Ham, pitting the Premier League leaders against the unexpected fourth place West Ham squad. All eyes will be on the match, one which even Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has stated will be very difficult based on the performance West Ham manager Sam Allardyce has been able to wrangle out of his squad.
Despite his praise of Allardyce, Mourinho will be pulling out all stops to make sure his club keeps its three-point lead when the dust clears after the day’s matches are all played. With Manchester City facing a struggling West Brom squad in their match, they will be watching expectantly hoping for the West Ham side to pull out a victory and open the door for them to close on the Blues.
Mourinho’s comments are a turnaround from his criticism last January after West Ham played them to a draw. Saying he regretted his earlier comments, his effusive praise of West Ham’s season this year said all of the right things, even if it did sound a bit disingenuous. It was a backhanded sort of compliment, with Mourinho mentioning what low expectations he had begun the season with for West Ham. If nothing else, he provided inspiration for Allardyce and his squad to want to exceed those expectations considerably with a Boxing Day win.
The match is going to come down to West Ham’s ability to penetrate the Chelsea defense. There is virtually no way that they can expect to carry the day playing a purely defensive game. With Andy Carroll back at striker fully fit, they have a weapon which helps their chances at least. His teamwork with Stewart Downing in the middle has been a key factor in their successful run this season. They face an uphill battle that almost none of the commentators expect them to win, but if they are able somehow to surprise Mourinho’s squad early on, they may have more of a chance than expected. A long shot certainly, even with Eden Hazard doubtful to play after his injury against Stoke, but Boxing Day has a way of bringing out a club’s best performance.
Fueling the overwhelming expectation of a Chelsea victory is a look at the matchups. Despite Downing’s dominant play this season, facing Nemanja Matic may well present a challenge that is too much for him. That is a battle which everyone will be watching for to set the tone for the match. Many also feel that Carl Jenkinson and Aaron Cresswell may not be up to the task of preventing Chelsea from gaining the advantage on the outside as they like to do, putting the ball in to set up Diego Costa and his deadly attack. After missing some opportunities in the Stoke match, Costa will likely be back in this one with a vengeance. Chelsea just has too many weapons to compensate for.
With most of the league watching and hoping for the Stamford Bridge squad to stumble at home and open the door, however slightly, Chelsea has the opportunity to set the tone for the rest of the day as they start off the Boxing Day battles. They will set the tone for the other clubs with this match, or West Ham will.
Commentary By Jim Malone
Image courtesy of Brent Flanders – Flickr License