Chelsea will be looking to get back to winning ways when they travel to the London Stadium to lock horns with West Ham United in a huge top-four showdown this teatime, kick-off 5:30pm.
The Blues, who have seen their preparations for the trip across the capital dominated by the fallout of the collapse of the European Super League, were held to a goalless draw by Brighton & Hove Albion at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday evening.
Although that was seen as a disappointing result for the Blues, who saw the evening overshadowed by events outside Stamford Bridge ahead of kick-off as supporters protested against the Super League plans, it was enough to lift them back into the top four on goal difference, meaning they will head into this teatime’s showdown ahead of the Hammers in the table.
With that said, the two clubs’ respective league positions speak volumes about the importance of this evening’s game in the battle to secure a top four berth this season.
Unsurprisingly, before head coach Thomas Tuchel could look ahead to today’s meeting with David Moyes’ side he was asked what he made to the Super League’s dramatic collapse earlier this week. Although he delivered a response, the German made it clear that he wanted to move on and focus on the football itself.
“To be very honest, I had so much information until the day of the match and after the match, that I gave myself the luxury of not reading any news, watching any news about anything,” Tuchel said during his pre-match press conference on Friday afternoon.
“So, the thing is off, we know what the situation is, the situation is clear, and that helps me as a coach to prepare my team for an important match. That’s pretty much everything.
“I have had enough pre-match and post-match press conference talks about it. And now it doesn’t even exist, so I’m happy to move on.”
Today’s clash with the Hammers, of course, could go a long way in determining the race for a top four finish, as both sides head into the game separated by just goal difference in the table, highlighting its importance. Although it is a big occasion for both, Tuchel has refused to suggest that it is the most important game of his tenure so far.
The German continued: “We had this question many times. We had it before Tottenham, Man United, Liverpool, Everton, Atletico, Porto and now.
“For me, every game is the biggest game because there are no other games to play tomorrow.
“This is against direct competition but when you look at our schedule and who we play in the next few weeks, there are only super tough teams and direct opponents.
“We play Fulham, Arsenal, Man City, Aston Villa and Leicester twice. This will keep going. It feels like a cup round after cup round. These are crucial fixtures that decide each outcome.
“We need to be focused. It is clearly a big game to close the gap on fourth place. We need to be self-confident but we need a top performance to steal the points from West Ham.”
Ahead of the tussle with the Hammers, Tuchel has confirmed that Mateo Kovacic will be the only player to miss out through injury. The Croatian has been forced to miss the last three matches with a hamstring problem and will not make a return against Moyes’ side.
“The team news is there is no new news,” said Tuchel. “Mateo is still out, everyone else is available. The good news is we are now totally focused on the game, no other subjects, motivations, demotivations out there.”
Meanwhile, Tuchel has also confirmed that goalkeeper Edouard Mendy will return between the sticks after playing no part in the games against Manchester City and Brighton. Spaniard Kepa Arrizabalaga retained his place in goal in midweek after keeping a clean-sheet against City last weekend, but will not start against the Hammers.
“[Edouard] Mendy is in goal,” Tuchel confirmed. “The change was made for Kepa for the cup game.
“And even before the cup game, the goalkeeper coach and I decided that Kepa would stay in for one more game after City as a reward to keep the rhythm of playing every three days.”
Elsewhere, the likes of Cesar Azpilicueta, N’Golo Kante and Timo Werner will be among those pushing for recalls after being named amongst the substitutes in midweek.
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Full Chelsea squad available to face West Ham:
Goalkeepers: Kepa Arrizabalaga, Willy Caballero & Edouard Mendy.
Defenders: Reece James, Cesar Azpilicueta, Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen, Thiago Silva, Kurt Zouma, Ben Chilwell, Marcos Alonso & Emerson.
Midfielders: Callum Hudson-Odoi, Hakim Ziyech, Christian Pulisic, N’Golo Kante, Billy Gilmour, Mason Mount, Kai Havertz, Faustino Anjorin & Jorginho.
Strikers: Tammy Abraham, Timo Werner & Olivier Giroud.