Chelsea rarely perform well at the London Stadium. In their seven visits to West Ham United’s latest home, just two victories have been claimed; one of those comes with an asterisk given it was achieved without supporters in the ground due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Antonio Conte tasted defeat in east London – as did Frank Lampard and Thomas Tuchel. And Maurizio Sarri’s only visit during his season in charge ended in a goalless draw. It will be the turn of Graham Potter on Saturday as he continues in his attempt to redirect Chelsea’s campaign.
After 21 top-flight fixtures, the Blues sit ninth. It is not good enough and expectations have only increased following a lavish January transfer window in which Benoit Badiashile, Enzo Fernandez, Mykhailo Mudryk, Noni Madueke and Joao Felix were all added to the first-team squad.
The optimistic Chelsea supporter will point out Potter’s side are unbeaten in three matches. The realist will highlight the Blues have won just one of their previous seven matches in all competitions and have struggled to score goals since the campaign restarted after the World Cup break.
There are very few players in the Chelsea squad as influential as Reece James. It’s why his absences due to injury over the past 12 months have been hugely impactful. Without the academy graduate patrolling the right flank, the Blues lose much of their attacking threat.
The 23-year-old made his latest return against Fulham on Friday evening. James featured for 60 minutes in the goalless draw, any more would have been too big a risk. “We are careful with him, we need to build him up,” explained Potter. “It’s not easy to do that in the Premier League but that is where we’re at. It’s good he got time on the pitch.”
James will undertake a full week of training prior to the clash with West Ham on Saturday. However, with the Champions League Round of 16 first leg against Borussia Dortmund coming just four days later, the England international’s minutes will need to be managed.
The safest option would be to name James on the bench and introduce him in the second period. The downside is Chelsea will be weaker no matter who steps into the side. There is nobody with the same talents as James. Well, until Malo Gusto arrives in the summer.
Thiago Silva will be named Chelsea’s Player of the Year – that is unless something rather remarkable happens during the remainder of the campaign. The Brazilian produces defensive clinics every time he steps onto the pitch, which at 38 years old is no easy feat.
What is more impressive is the centre-back’s durability: no member of the Chelsea first-team squad has played more minutes than Silva (2,088) despite his advancing years. However, there will be a breaking point and Potter must ensure the Brazil international doesn’t reach it.