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West Ham vs. Chelsea, Premier League: Opposition Analysis

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Let's just say this season hasn't gone as planned for Slaven Bilić.

Watford v West Ham United - Premier League Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

The Season So Far

…has been unbelievably frustrating.

West Ham’s 2015-16 was unforgettable for a number of reasons. While the stats-bods were busy pointing out how incredibly lucky the Hammers were getting, reminding us how heavily they were being outshot and how unsustainable it was for Dimitri Payet and Manuel Lanzini to keep burying screamers from all distances and angles, Slaven Bilić’s men were simply enjoying it.

They began this season striding forth into the London Stadium, spring in their step, while the owners spoke about taking the club to the next level. They had European football. They had loads of class players. They had a manager who didn’t take any shit from anyone. This was gonna be fun.

Then the injuries started. Then they had no right-backs left. Then they had no strikers left. Then the goals dried up. Then the goals started going in at the other end, and in sizeable numbers. Then Bilić ran out of ideas. Then Payet, seemingly fed up at being better than all of his teammates combined, picked up his ball (metaphorically, you understand) and went back to France. Surely that was the end, right? …right? Wrong.

West Ham, a side still as reliant on wondergoals, backs-to-the-wall defending, wondergoals, headless chicken last-ditch acts of heroism and even more wondergoals have pulled away from trouble, losing only twice since the turn of the year, and only being defeated by considerably better opposition at that.

At the start of the season this column predicted a safe if sometimes bumpy journey towards welcome midtable mediocrity, and that’s eventually what West Ham have got.

The Season Ahead

Still with no right-backs and no strikers, and with the likes of Mark Noble, Cheikhou Kouyaté and Winston Reid enduring particularly bad campaigns, and with goalkeeper Adrián and defender Angelo Ogbonna seemingly having disappeared from the face of the Earth, ending the season on a high is going to be an all-hands-on-deck effort.

Thankfully, the underrated Sofiane Feghouli and the industrious Manuel Lanzini are filling the Payet-shaped hole in West Ham’s attacking midfield and the maddeningly productive Michail Antonio has been carrying the slack for everyone else all season long. José Fonte should add composure and authority to a rudderless backline and the sense that Pedro Obiang is just finding his feet in English football keeps growing. Should Andy Carroll and/or André Ayew get back to full fitness any time soon, a rousing final few months is more than possible.

Tactics

To say that West Ham actually have tactics is a bit of a stretch but here we go.

We can expect a deep and narrow and still somehow porous back four, a tight and disciplined but still hopelessly exploitable midfield two in front of them, with some kind of free-form trio of lightweight, workshy show-ponies getting in each other’s way behind a relatively harmless number nine.

The defensive strategy will be basically to let Darren Randolph do all the work while everyone else gets confused by competent opposition attacking play and starts throwing themselves in front of shots, hoping that visible shows of passion and oomph will get the fans off their backs.

In attack, Feghouli plays proper football, which confuses everyone around him, while Lanzini tries trick-shots from stupid distances, Robert Snodgrass crosses the ball a lot like the Championship-grade winger that he is, and Andy Carroll commits fouls, falls over the ball and moves with the balletic grace of a giraffe trying to jump through a basketball hoop.

Strengths

You can never rule out a wondergoal when West Ham are concerned, no matter how badly they’re playing or how many shots the opposition have had in the game up until that point.

Sofiane Feghouli is really good.

Michail Antonio and Andy Carroll have highly skilled foreheads.

Slaven Bilić is pretty affable.

That’s it.

Weaknesses

Most obviously, they play with absolutely no organisation at any stage of the game, and this is rarely a good idea.

Speaking of bad ideas, playing good players out of position and playing bad players at all are also notably counterproductive plans. Kouyaté is simply not a right-back, much less one that can stop a left-winger of Eden Hazard’s calibre (or Willian’s, should Hazard be ruled out), nor deal with an overlapping Marcos Alonso. Darren Randolph is not a Premier League goalkeeper, and in Michail Antonio’s absence and with doubts remaining over the fitness of Carroll and Ayew, they may not have a single player capable of playing as a striker.

It’s worth reiterating that West Ham literally have no tactics and that Chelsea do have tactics. This is a significant advantage for the Blues.

Besides that, on a moral note: Andy Carroll is everything wrong with football and no evidence to the contrary or suggestions that balance be applied can disprove this notion. It’s only a matter of time until Carroll joins forces with T*ny P*l*s and opens up some kind of interdimensional vortex allowing Satan to conquer the Earth.

Likely XIs

No alarms and no surprises.

Prediction

As Chelsea close in on another Premier League title, no slips will be allowed against such miserable opposition. It’s gonna be a highly professional but bad-tempered 2-0 win for Antonio Conte and company.