Mourinho setting Chelsea up to hammer West Ham

Posted by Mark Worrall

Scott Heavey/Getty ImagesPlaying against boyhood club West Ham always seems to bring the best out of Frank Lampard.

Chelsea make a welcome return to Premier League action against West Ham United on Saturday, and Blues supporters making the short journey across the capital to cheer on their team at Upton Park will be hoping that manager Jose Mourinho has addressed the dramatic lapse in form that has seen the Stamford Bridge club manage a single point, and that a fortuitous one, from November's fixtures thus far.

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Hammers fans, for their part, will click through the Boleyn Ground turnstiles with a certain sense of trepidation. West Ham are without a win in their past four Premier League games, have scored only one goal in their past three and find themselves level on points with Fulham, who currently occupy the third relegation spot in the top flight. Last season's corresponding game saw Chelsea, then under the stewardship of immensely unpopular interim boss Rafael Benitez, contrive to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. On that occasion, despite Juan Mata having given them an early lead, the Blues lost 3-1, and under-pressure Hammers manager Sam Allardyce will be looking to mastermind a similar result if he is to arrest the east London's club alarming slide down the Premier League table.

Last term's triumph represents West Ham's only success in their past 15 meetings with their illustrious rivals from London SW6, and Mourinho will be well aware that anything other than victory will be deemed a failure as he seeks to get Chelsea's title challenge back on track. Having had two weeks to ponder selection options and finesse strategy, there is no doubt that Mourinho's starting XI will reflect the need to put Allardyce's men to the sword.

Under the bar, Petr Cech will retain his place despite the gaffe that gifted West Brom the lead in the controversial 2-2 draw with the Baggies last time out. In defence, left-back Ashley Cole returns to the first team squad despite having aggravated the rib injury that had seen him subbed off at Norwich last month while playing for England in Tuesday's defeat to Germany. Despite naturally left-sided Ryan Bertrand being available to deputise for Cole, Mourinho could continue with reserve right-back Cesar Azpilicueta as a replacement for the Chelsea veteran if he is deemed not ready for the frenetic cut and thrust of a London derby. Branislav Ivanovic looks set to continue on the right with captain John Terry and Gary Cahill likely to be partners once again in central defence.

No place once again, then, for out-of-favour David Luiz, though with one eye on the forthcoming midweek Champions League trip to Basel, Mourinho may take a chance on the Brazilian against West Ham who, with Andy Carroll a long-term absentee, will face Chelsea without a recognized striker. That being the case, Cahill would drop to the bench at Upton Park and be restored to the side for the Basel match with the Swiss side expected to provide Chelsea with a sterner examination of their defensive qualities than the Hammers.

If there is one Chelsea player who relishes playing at the Boleyn, it's Frank Lampard. Bitter Hammers fans love baiting the all-time Blues record goal scorer and England international centurion with "fat boy" gibes. Lampard, who started his career with West Ham, typically responds in kind by letting his boots do the talking, most notably when scoring the 200th goal of his Chelsea career against his alma mater club. The Blues legend's form has been patchy of late, but given the opposition and Super Frank's special relationship with the home fans, Mourinho may elect to play Lampard ahead of John Obi Mikel in Chelsea's midfield engine room, which will also feature Ramires stoking the fire.

Further forward, the usual dilemma presents itself to the Chelsea manager: which creative trio to opt for from the treasure chest of midfield jewels available. Willian and Eden Hazard seem to have found favour with Mourinho in recent weeks, and they are in prime position to work the flanks playing either side of the ever-dynamic Oscar, who has made the coveted Chelsea No. 10 role his own this season with a series of masterful displays. With Fernando Torres still ruled out by a groin problem that has sidelined him for several weeks, Samuel Eto'o will be tasked with leading the line as the Blues go in search of goals.

On paper, Hammers manager Allardyce looks to have has a thankless task ahead of him, but with former Blues fans favourite Joey Cole in his ranks along with the remarkably talented Manchester United reject Ravel Morrison, West Ham are more than capable of raising their game, particularly in a London derby. Morrison was the star of the show in his side's surprising 3-0 win at White Hart Lane, rippling the Spurs' net with a spectacular strike, and plenty will have seen the fearless youngster's sensational training ground "mule-kick" goal, which went viral on the Internet last week.

The last time either side failed to score in this fixture at the Boleyn was in March 2000. Since then, 10 matches have produced 30 goals, with Chelsea responsible for 20 of them. If the past is anything to go by, an entertaining game looks in prospect, and Blues manager Mourinho, speaking at Friday's prematch news conference, is under no illusion about the task facing his side:

"I'm expecting a very difficult match," he said. "It always was in my time and it continues to be a hard match there. We have to be on the top of our game if we want a result."

Despite the caution in Mourinho's comments, Chelsea should have enough in their locker to win this game comfortably and send their supporters home happy, safe in the knowledge that for now, the race for the title is back on.


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