If we were to pick just one match from last season to represent that entire season, we could do a lot worse than going with the 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge against West Ham United. It had almost everything that was so typical of Chelsea 2013/14 edition, but mainly the following two things.
- Boatload of shots, vast majority inaccurate, and no goals. This game took it to the extreme as Chelsea waged siege warfare with 39 shots towards goal, 9 on target.
- A stout defense, but a slightly stunted, slow, narrow, often unimaginative offense, with a striker dropping deep into an already congested midfield (third-string Ba excepted), leaving the defenders with a much easier task than they should've had as they went about defending their penalty area.
Unsurprisingly, these were our two areas of greatest improvement in the summer transfer window. Diego Costa, while he's predictably slowed his torrid early pace, has been money in front of goal, and Cesc Fàbregas keeps racking up the assists while controlling possession with some wonderful passing and creativity from the middle of the park.
Of course, we should never read too much into just one match, but we know that this Chelsea team is better than last season's. And while West Ham have shown similar improvement -- they can actually play some quality football rather often nowadays -- this game should be a perfect litmus test for just how far we have (or have not, should things go awry) come.
Date / Time: Friday, December 26, 2014, 12:45 GMT; 7:45am EST; 6:15pm IST
Venue: Stamford Bridge, SW6
Referee: Michael Oliver - after refereeing our last game last season and our first game this season, Oliver's back to referee our last home game of the calendar year. This will the young man's 11th Chelsea game; we've won 8 out of the previous 10, losing just once (2-1 away to WBA in 2012).
On TV: Sky Sports 1 (UK); NBCSN, mun2 (USA); Star Sports 4 / HD 2 (India); elsewhere
Online: Sky Go (UK); NBC Sports Live Extra, Deportes Telemundo En Vivo Extra (USA); Star Sports (India)
Chelsea Team News: Eden Hazard claims he's good to go, which should give the Blues a clean bill of health.
In years past, this might've been a fixture to rotate and rest a few guys, but not this year. Chelsea may be in action again on Sunday (away to Southampton), but my guess is we'll see as much of a full strength lineup for both games as humanly, medically, physically possible.
West Ham United Team News: A big part of West Ham's success has been their defense -- fifth best in the league -- but they will be without one of their regular center backs as James Tomkins is set to miss out with a hamstring strain. Kevin Nolan and Mark Noble are both expected to be available for selection after recovering from their injuries.
The Hammers are unbeaten in five and have lost just once in the last three months. That being said, they only have 2 away wins in the last four months (3-1 at Burnley and 2-1 at West Brom) as well.
Previously: Chelsea have lost just once to our cross-town rivals since the start of Mourinho's first tenure, winning 17 of 21 in the process. Overall, Chelsea own a 45-37 edge in the previous 101 meetings between the two clubs.