A victory for Chelsea would keep them firmly in the top-four race when they host West Ham at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League on Monday (3pm ET).
With just six matches left (seven for Arsenal), very little separates the four teams competing for the two remaining places in the top four. Tottenham Hotspur lead the way in third, with Arsenal and Chelsea just a point behind them and Manchester United another two back.
Chelsea still have away trips to Liverpool and Manchester United to come and must therefore secure maximum points from the three winnable home matches that remain for them, starting this weekend with the visit of West Ham.
Supporters are starting to make clear their displeasure at the approach of coach Maurizio Sarri. It is likely that a failure to secure Champions League football for next season, either by finishing in the top four or by winning the Europa League, might bring an end to the Italian’s time in charge after just a year at the helm.
Sarri believes he and his side are being punished for raising expectations with a strong start to the season that they were always going to find it difficult to maintain over the full course of the campaign. In comparison to their underlying numbers, Chelsea did run hot through the first half of the season. Things haven’t just balanced out thereafter: both Chelsea’s top-line results and underlying numbers have worsened as the season had gone on.
The selection of Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi in the 3-0 home win over Brighton on Wednesday felt like somewhat of a peace offering from Sarri, who has received criticism for not giving more minutes to that young pair of England internationals. It was also effective out on the pitch: Hudson-Odoi assisted Olivier Giroud’s opener, while Loftus-Cheek set up the second and scored the third himself.
That win was a continuation of Chelsea’s very solid home form. They have won four of their last five at Stamford Bridge, are undefeated in their last six there and have lost just once there all season. Even as a slightly lesser side than they were earlier in the campaign, and even in light of the fact that West Ham have been able to secure draws in this fixture in three of the last five seasons, they will still feel pretty confident of overcoming their London rivals.
Inconsistent is probably the word that best sums up West Ham’s season. They are just about hanging on to the coattails of the five-team battle for seventh. They are five points shy of current occupants Wolverhampton Wanderers. Their inability to string together a series of good results has severely hampered their hopes of prevailing in that race.
Manuel Pellegrini’s side did win four matches in a row during the first half of December, but that is the only time this season they have recorded successive victories, and one of only four times they have gone unbeaten for three or more matches. Their last six results, in order, read: win, loss, win, loss, win, loss. Last weekend, they followed a 4-3 win at home to Huddersfield with a 0-2 defeat at home to Everton.
Pellegrini has undoubtedly improved West Ham from where they were last season. His side have already accumulated the same number of points they did in the entirety of that campaign. It is probably fair to question whether they have improved enough given the investment last summer. Promising signs have not yet translated to reliable performances.
At home, West Ham have matched a strong record against the bottom eight with decent results against the top six, securing wins over Arsenal and Manchester United and draws with Chelsea and Liverpool. They have struggled more on their travels, losing to three of the bottom six and all three of the top-six clubs they have come up against to date.
Indeed, one of the primary hurdles to their hopes of pushing for seventh, even perhaps to staying in the top half of the table, is the fact that after this weekend’s visit to Stamford Bridge, they must also still go away to Spurs and United.
Our Betting Preview’s Chelsea vs. West Ham Picks & Predictions Verdict
West Ham have had real difficulties finding the back of the net in their recent away matches, failing to score in five of their last six. Given that Chelsea have kept a clean sheet in seven of their last 10 league matches at Stamford Bridge, a home victory to nil looks the angle when having a wager with the big U.S. sports betting firms.