West Ham United has been a pleasant surprise so far in its return to English Premier League play.
Who: Chelsea at West Ham United
What: English Premier League, Week 15
Where: Upton Park, London, England
When: Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012
Weather: The Weather Channel forecast
Time: 12:45 p.m. GMT/7:45 a.m. ET/4:45 a.m. PT
Television: ESPN2, ESPN3 (USA); Sky Sports 2/HD (UK)
Radio: SiriusXM Satellite Radio channel 94 (Internet 94)
Worldwide Live Streams and TV Channels: LiveSoccerTV.com
Referee: Martin Atkinson
3-Way Odds: Chelsea -111, West Ham +320, Draw +275
Total: Over 2½ -133, Under 2½ -105
Decimal Odds: Chelsea 1.90, West Ham 4.20, Draw 3.25
Decimal Total: Over 2½ 1.25, Under 2½ 1.95
Fractional Odds: Chelsea 9/10, West Ham 16/5, Draw 9/4
Fractional Total: Over 2½ 3/4, Under 2½ 19/20
Source: sportsbook.com (Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles)
The good news for Chelsea and its fans is that the month of November is finally over. The bad news is that its current downward spiral possibly isn’t.
Realistically, the 11th month wasn’t as harsh as some may think on paper as the Blues went 1-4-2 in its seven games in all competitions, but it is pretty sobering to think that lone win came on a last-second header by Victor Moses against Shakhtar Donetsk in their UEFA Champions League game on Nov. 7.
But the past is gone and there’s nothing Chelsea (7-5-2, 26 points) or its fans can do now but hope for the best in December and the coming new year.
And although he replaced Roberto Di Matteo just a week ago and hasn’t lost a game or even seen an opponent score under his watch, it seems new Blues manager Rafael Benítez is already feeling as much heat at Stamford Bridge as former manager André Villas-Boas did during his entire tenure in west London.
On Saturday, Chelsea will play in another London derby at West Ham in another game that could be considered a must-win and yet another match in which the club hopes Fernando Torres can finally get off the schnide.
But blaming the Spanish striker for the all of the current defending European champion's woes is a bit like blaming your auto mechanic for your own decision to keep driving a rundown car you know has too many miles on it and not simply electing to just go out and buy a new one.
It’s true El Niño has certainly not lived up to his £50 million price tag and he has certainly struggled on the pitch since coming to Chelsea last January but it’s important to note he’s not the club’s owner nor the manager.
And Torres certainly didn’t orchestrate the mass exodus of scoring talent over the last year (Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka, Salomon Kalou, Florent Malouda) and he certainly doesn’t pencil himself into the starting lineup every game.
This problem has been, and will continue to be the owner and management’s until they decide that Torres—who now has a measly 19 goals in 88 games and hasn’t scored in 648 minutes—is simply not helping the team win and needs to be replaced.
By stark contrast, Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi already has 19 goals this season in 13 games in La Liga play.
So Saturday’s match at the 10th-place Hammers (5-4-5, 16 goals scored, 16 goals against)—who were promoted from the Championship this season—gives Torres and new manager Benítez another chance to start fresh and try to win some much-needed respect from Blues fans.
But we all know getting back in the fans’ good graces will take some time for both of these guys—if it is to ever actually happen.
West Ham manager Sam Allardyce has done a nice job with his team so far, which has just one loss at home (Arsenal), going 3-3-1 (11 goals for, 6 goals against) there and holding on to its spot in the top half of the English Premier League table.
Former Finland international Jussi Jääskeläinen has been solid in goal for the Hammers and Kevin Nolan (5 goals) and Mark Noble (2) provide some quality on the attack, but West Ham has just those two players with two or more goals and the team has only scored four goals in its last six matches.
But don’t expect any sympathy from Chelsea, who has been shut out three straight times and has just five goals in its last six, three of which came in that aforementioned lone win of the month at home against Shakhtar.
The Blues will be looking for their first league win since Oct. 20 (Tottenham Hotspur) and will hope to bring home all three points after securing just four (out of a possible 18) in their last six games.
Expect Benítez to employ a less radical starting XI on Saturday than he did against Fulham on Wednesday with Juan Mata and John Obi Mikel likely back in the fold.
Two guys unavailable due to injuries but named to Chelsea’s Club World Cup roster on Thursday were John Terry and Frank Lampard, who should both help the club rebound this winter when a soft patch of scheduling (Dec. 5 - Feb. 22) will certainly be welcomed.
In the last 10 games in this series, Chelsea is undefeated going 8-2-0 and outscoring their London neighbors 23-5 in the process and, thanks in great part to goalkeeper Petr Čech, has registered five clean sheets in those 10 meetings.
The Blues have beaten West Ham three straight times (10-2 goals) but with cold weather in London in the forecast and chilly receptions lately from the press and its fans, Chelsea will again have its work cut out for them to gain a victory in this weekend’s lid-lifter in the Premiership.
With November finally over, let’s hope this gray chapter in the club’s history can be put to rest, but it’s entirely up to the players now as to how they respond to this seemingly never-ending royal blue nightmare that has seen Chelsea fall from first to third place in the EPL table as well as place them on the brink of elimination in the Champions League.
Nobody ever said it would be easy, brother.
BETS: Chelsea -111, Under 2½ -105
PREDICTION: Chelsea 1, West Ham 0
Follow me on Twitter: @KevinStott11