West Ham vs Chelsea: Five Key Battles

Mark Noble

Chelsea's goalless draw with Fulham midweek took them to six games without a win in the league, whilst West Ham have not been in the best form themselves. Who will come out on top in the Saturday lunchtime kick-off?

Here are the key battles...

Andy Carroll vs Branislav Ivanovic

Assuming John Terry is not fit for the weekend, Benitez will likely line up with Luiz and Ivanovic in defence. Of the two of them, Chelsea will be keen to pit Ivanovic against Carroll, with the outcome of that physical and aerial and battle likely to have a strong bearing on the success of West Ham's attacks. Carroll has only one goal this season, but has been playing well as the focal point for West Ham that the rest of the team can work off. If Ivanovic can deny them that outlet, they will find it hard to gain and retain possession in the final third.

Kevin Nolan vs Oriol Romeu

Whilst Carroll has been the hold-up player for the team, Nolan has been the main man profiting. His breaks from midfield have yielded five league goals already, and whoever is tracking him from Chelsea's midfield has a job on their hands. Mikel was dropped in favour of Romeu for the visit of Fulham, with Benitez keen to utilise the young Spaniard's greater passing range. If Romeu is selected again, he will need to give plenty of focus to his defensive responsibilities, as Nolan cannot be allowed to enter the box unattended.

James Tomkins vs Eden Hazard

The Belgian has looked increasingly jaded in recent weeks, but can still terrorise a defence on his day. With Chelsea playing a slightly more restrained style under Benitez, Hazard can be left a little isolated up the pitch, but still has the ability to find a route to goal by himself. Tomkins will presumably move back into defence now Noble is available, and will have to monitor Hazard carefully from there. If West Ham can get a hold of the Belgian early, he may be set for another frustrating outing.

Mark Noble vs Ramires

Noble was suspended for the match at Old Trafford in midweek, but you'd expect him to return for the weekend. Allardyce will set his team up in a defensive fashion, and Noble will be part of the screen in front of his defence attempting to deny Chelsea's midfield a route to goal. The focus may be on the trio of Oscar, Mata and Hazard, but Ramires’ breaks from deep can be just as dangerous, and Noble will need to be ready to block them off.

Mohammed Diame vs Juan Mata

Mata was rested for much of the midweek game, and Chelsea looked flat without him. With his recent rotation Mata has lost a little of his form, but he still the man who makes things happen for Chelsea. Benitez has had Mata operating from a slightly deeper position, which may make him easier for Diame to pick up, as Mata will be in a more traditional midfield position. If West Ham can stop Mata from getting space in the final third, they'll go a long way towards stopping Chelsea

image: © wonker

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