Guus Hiddink says he expects West Ham United to give Chelsea a tough afternoon when they visit Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
The Hammers are flying high in fifth place in the Premier League, nine points ahead of Chelsea as they chase a spot in Europe for next season in either the Champions League or Europa League.
Slaven Bilic's side also remain in the draw for the semi-final of the FA Cup after they drew 1-1 against Manchester United last week to earn a replay.
Meanwhile, Chelsea's season is as good as over. In the space of a few days last week, they were eliminated from the Champions League and FA Cup, with only their remaining nine league games left to play.
With the gap between them and a top-four finish looking too much to close at this late stage of the season, it seems Hiddink's side have nothing but pride left to play for.
"I expect a tough match because [West Ham] are doing very well at home and away," Hiddink said on Friday.
"They are a courageous team who are fast on the counter-attack. They have skilful players, they are a nice team to watch. They are in the mood in fifth position, not just dreaming but maybe making fourth place come true. They’ve shown they can play and they have players who can be decisive at any minute."
With players like Dimitri Payet, the Hammers have enjoyed a remarkable season, but Hiddink says manager Bilic should also take many of the plaudits for what they have achieved thus far.
"He’s a very stable, very consistent manager," added Chelsea's interim boss. "We've had some encounters at international and club level. He's a very driven coach, I've known him many years.
"There is a mutual respect; when we see each other, we talk. Being a young manager, he's already done many good things."
Hiddink will hope one of those many good things doesn't include picking up three points at Stamford Bridge, where West Ham haven't won since 2002.
How will this game end?
Date: Saturday, March 19
Time: 3 p.m. GMT/11 a.m. ET
Venue: Stamford Bridge, London
TV Info: Match of the Day, BBC1, 10.30pm (UK only)/NBC Sports (U.S. only)
Live Stream: No live UK stream/NBCSN (U.S. only)
Last 5 Games
|Feb. 27||Southampton 1-2 Chelsea|
|Mar. 1||Norwich City 1-2 Chelsea|
|Mar. 5||Chelsea 1-1 Stoke City|
|Mar. 9||Chelsea 1-2 Paris Saint-Germain|
|Mar. 12||Everton 2-0 Chelsea|
|Feb. 21||Blackburn Rovers 1-5 West Ham United|
|Feb. 27||West Ham United 1-0 Sunderland|
|Mar. 2||West Ham United 1-0 Tottenham Hotspur|
|Mar. 5||Everton 2-3 West Ham United|
|Mar. 13||Manchester United 1-1 West Ham United|
West Ham United FC
Diego Costa starts his two-match suspension for this game after he was sent off against Everton in Chelsea's FA Cup defeat last week. That means Bertrand Traore, Loic Remy and Alexandre Pato will be fighting it out to lead the line for Chelsea.
The big news elsewhere is that John Terry should start after missing the past month with a hamstring injury, but Eden Hazard misses out.
West Ham will be without defensive trio Carl Jenkinson, James Tomkins and James Collins.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Courtois; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta; Mikel, Fabregas; Willian, Oscar, Pedro; Traore
West Ham United (4-3-3): Adrian; Byram, Reid, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Noble, Kouyate, Lanzini; Antonio, Carroll, Payet
John Obi Mikel
It says much about Chelsea's campaign that John Obi Mikel is now being regarded as a star man in their side. It's not because Mikel isn't worthy of such status but more down to the fact his performances have stood out after a lack of form from other key players.
Now Chelsea are relying on the Nigerian to stop them losing games when the perspective should be different; Chelsea should be looking to other players to win them matches.
It's why Mikel is going to be vital against West Ham on Saturday. He needs to be at his best to shut down a fluid West Ham attack—cutting off the supply lines to Payet especially.
Mikel has shown his expertise at doing that since Christmas, and a repeat of that form will go a long way to getting Chelsea a result they need on Saturday.
If Payet's on form, West Ham are on form. We've seen proof of that since Payet returned from injury in January. Before then, the Hammers had won just once in the seven matches he missed, but now they're back to winning ways and in contention for a Champions League spot.
It's been an incredible season for the east Londoners, who have punched well above their weight. A huge reason for that has been down to the flair Payet has added, with his influence stretching across this entire side.
The Frenchman is infectious, with his performances helping lift those around him. It means Chelsea must stop him on Saturday if they're to prevent the Hammers claiming a first win at Stamford Bridge in almost 15 seasons.
Chelsea 3-1 West Ham United
Home Win: -182
Away Win: +500
First Goalscorer: Dimitri Payet (10/1)