Chelsea is now in a fight for Champions League qualification. The next obstacle to that goal is West Ham United.
Heading into the weekend, Chelsea stands fourth on the Premier League table (though the team does have a game in hand on Tottenham). With Arsenal, Everton and Liverpool lurking within striking distance, every Premier League game is now a battle to remain in the top four.
In a home game with far more on the line, you would expect Chelsea to earn the three points. But in a somewhat roller-coaster season for the team, anything is possible. Let's take a closer look at this key league game between Chelsea and West Ham.
When: Sunday, March 17, at 12 p.m. ET
Where: Stamford Bridge, London, England
Watch: FOX Soccer; FOX Soccer 2Go
What They're Saying
While there are no shortage of issues Chelsea fans have with interim manager Rafa Benitez, one development that has become quite interesting is the manager's use—or lack thereof—of captain John Terry.
Terry has generally been relegated to the bench, and Phil Lythell of ESPN wonders why:
Perhaps he simply doesn't fancy Terry as a player of sufficient quality, whether it’s due to the waning of his abilities or the presence of better options at his disposal. One of the last meaningful matches in which Benitez selected him in his starting eleven was the enthralling but galling 3-2 defeat at Newcastle at the beginning of February where it was the defender's mistake that turned the match. Terry's injudicious and rash attempt at an interception on the halfway line was clinically punished by Moussa Sissoko who ran on to make it 2-2. Since that day on Tyneside, Terry has been condemned to the substitutes' bench in the Premier League.
Lythell gives any number of reasons for why Terry is rotting away on the bench—declining skills, Benitez wanting to prove he can make the tough decisions, the manager is simply ushering Chelsea into a future without veterans like Terry and Frank Lampard, etc.—but whatever the case may be, Terry on the bench is not a development the Chelsea faithful are used to seeing.
Chelsea Player to Watch: Eden Hazard
Juan Mata aside, there isn't a player on Chelsea who presents a greater ability to perform the spectacular or completely take over a match like Hazard.
When Hazard came on in the second half of Chelsea's FA Cup tie against Manchester United last week, he changed the entire tenor of the game with his brilliant, curling goal. When he is playing at full force—and yes, he can be a bit inconsistent in his play—Chelsea is a handful to deal with.
Hazard is a bulldog on the ball, a clever playmaker and a threat to score from distance every time he cuts into the center of the pitch. If West Ham hopes to beat Chelsea, they must contain the dangerous duo of Hazard and Mata.
West Ham Player to Watch: Andy Carroll
Andy Carroll has been a disappointment—again.
In 15 Premier League appearances for West Ham, the tall striker has managed just three goals. To be fair, he did lose about two months of the season to injury, but I'm sure West Ham was hoping for more than a goal every five appearances when they signed him on loan this summer.
There's no doubt that Carroll has a ton of potential, and on a West Ham side that has only managed 32 goals this season (15th in the Premier League), he's the one player that has any sort of scoring pedigree. He'll need to be a constant threat against Chelsea if West Ham is to pull off the upset.
Chelsea is a truly unpredictable side this year, but they still have a ton of talent and can flip on a switch in games that most teams simply don't have. It won't be easy, but Chelsea will sneak away with the three points, winning 1-0.