The latest instalment of the “District Line Derby” brings together two sides who have underperformed over the course of this season. Chelsea under Mauricio Sarri have fallen away after a solid start to the season and are left in a position where Champions League football may slip out of their reach. West Ham, who would have been targeting a European place after a big-spending summer, find themselves bobbing along in mid-table. However, a sound end to the season could still see both sides achieve their pre-season ambitions.
A sound end to the season, however, mandates that the sides don’t drop points between now and the middle of May. Given the form that has been on show from both, you wouldn’t put much money on either team doing that – and whoever comes away from this contest with a loss might as well start thinking about their summer holidays. There is also the consideration that between Sarri and his counterpart here, Manuel Pellegrini, either one of these coaches may be staring down the barrel of a sacking if they don’t deliver what they were brought in to do.
Hammers lacking any momentum
West Ham currently occupy 11th place in the Premier League, which isn’t a great spot to be in – but they are just five points of the seventh spot that would be enough to qualify for the Europa League should Manchester City win the FA Cup. Given that the teams above them include some of the most inconsistent sides in England – hello Everton, hi Leicester – a run of victories between now and the end of the season could easily see them into the preliminary stages of European competition where, being West Ham, they would lose to the Slovenian cup winners.
However, that run of victories would need to start with a win tonight, and that’s a tough ask on recent form. Their last three games have included losses at Cardiff and at home to Everton, along with a 4-3 win over Huddersfield. Considering that the Terriers are already relegated, and Pellegrini’s men needed three goals in the last 15 minutes to turn a loss into a win against them, this doesn’t instill confidence in their chances tonight. We’d expect Chelsea to hit the front early against a West Ham defence that is struggling, and to lead this game both at half time and at the final whistle. You can get 7/2 on that outcome with William Hill.
Goals at a premium?
West Ham did manage four goals against Huddersfield, but let’s just say that there is a huge asterisk next to that game. When it comes to games against teams who haven’t been marked for relegation since the start of the season, the Hammers have struggled in front of goal recently. Much of this has been down to a drop in form for their attacking talisman Marko Arnautovic. When he plays like he can, he’s an enthralling sight, but the problem is that he’s also the dictionary definition of “inconsistency”; recently, his mercurial form has trended mostly towards “disinterested bystander”.
It’s hard not to conclude that Arnautovic’s head is elsewhere. He extended his contract in January after the club turned down a bid from China that would have made the Austrian a very rich man. Arnautovic himself then appeared in a club video announcing his new deal, in which he looked less than enthused by the idea of staying. The issue is that if Arnautovic doesn’t produce, neither do West Ham. Chelsea themselves have not been hugely reliable in attack, so Ladbrokes’ odds that the home side will win and fewer than 3.5 goals be scored (6/5) seem like excellent value.
Chelsea to do enough but not much more
It’s worth remembering that Chelsea come into this match just a point off third place, having played the same number of games as their main rivals for that spot. If they had been offered finishing third before the season, they’d probably have grabbed your arm off for it. However, even now there is a feeling that if they get that spot – and the automatic place in the Champions League group stage it offers – they’ll have struggled their way to it. That sense of making things hard for themselves has been at play for much of the season – and could be in evidence here.
A correct score is always tough to predict with absolute accuracy, but if Chelsea control the game the way Sarri’s tactical approach demands, it’s easy to see them coming out of this with a 2-0 win. You can get 6/1 on that with Betway, and it’s worth taking those odds against a West Ham side who remain as frustrating as they have ever been, but more expensively so now.
Bets of the Day
Chelsea HT/FT (7/2, William Hill); Chelsea 2-0 (6/1, Betway); Chelsea win and fewer than 3.5 goals (Ladbrokes, 6/5)