Rafa Benitez heads into his first away match as Chelsea boss still looking for his first win and first goal of his controversial reign.
The Spaniard may be glad to be travelling away from Stamford Bridge after the frosty atmosphere he has encountered in two goalless draws since arriving as Roberto Di Matteo’s successor. Benitez has already shown that he is still an exceptional organizer of a team, but the pressure will be on at Upton Park to prove that he can also get the side firing going forward.
After Di Matteo’s Chelsea were often left exposed without the ball against quality opposition, Benitez must now find a balance. And fast.
Benitez has claimed that his side can still win the Premier League title this season, but, having slipped six points behind second-placed Manchester City and seven points back of leaders Manchester United, there is little room for further setbacks.
Much of the focus has been on Fernando Torres as the striker continues to struggle to find anything like the form he displayed under the tutelage of Benitez at Liverpool. It has been widely reported that Torres now has until the January transfer window to save a Chelsea career that started with a £50 million move in January 2011.
The other big deal of that frenetic final day of the transfer window was Andy Carroll’s £35 million move to Liverpool. Like Torres, Carroll has failed to justify his lofty fee and is now spearheading West Ham’s attack on a season-long loan.
As at Anfield, the England international has struggled with fitness and goals since joining the Hammers, but a first strike for the cub against Tottenham last Sunday has raised expectations that the 23-year-old could go onto enjoy a strong remainder of the season.
Carroll’s fitness is again a concern heading into the meeting with Chelsea, though, with the target man set to face a late fitness test on a knee injury. A late decision will also be made on the fitness of defender George McCartney,
West Ham will welcome back Mark Noble after the midfielder served a suspension in the 1-0 defeat to Manchester United on Wednesday.
Benitez, meanwhile will still be without the English trio of John Terry, Frank Lampard and Daniel Sturridge.
West Ham (probable)
D: Demel, Reid, Collins, O’Brien
M: Jarvis, Diame, Noble. Nolan, Taylor
D: Azpilicueta, Ivanovic, Luiz, Cole
M: Ramires, Romeu
Mata, Oscar, Hazard
Prediction: In the midst of a challenging run of fixtures, West Ham boss Sam Allardyce will be striving to avoid a third straight defeat. At home they are a tough side to beat and have only lost once so far this season. While Chelsea should get their first goal under Benitez, it may well not be enough to secure his maiden three points.
West Ham 1-1 Chelsea
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League clash kicks-off at Upton Park at 7.45 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by ESPN2, with a live stream available on ESPN3.