Following the European Super League drama, the focus will return to the race for the Champions League. There are five teams competing for two spots, which will create intrigue to the end of the season. West Ham United host Chelsea on Saturday, with the two teams currently in the fourth and fifth positions. The Blues are ahead of their London rivals, but only on goal difference. Thomas Tuchel will realise that this is a game that his team need to win in order to consolidate their position, especially with Liverpool well placed to take advantage of any slip-ups.
It has been an extraordinary season for West Ham and it serves of a reminder that the ‘other 14’ can compete for Champions League qualification. If the Super League plans had gone ahead, it would have been impossible for the Hammers to achieve that end goal. That may give them extra motivation to get one over on one of the ‘top-six’ and strengthen their own position. Although they lost to Newcastle United last weekend, David Moyes will be buoyed by the second half fightback with ten men. A similar level of aggression and energy will give them a chance on Saturday.
Chelsea are in a strong position to finish the season on a high. They are in the top four, while they have reached the FA Cup final and Champions League semi-final. The decision to replace Frank Lampard with Thomas Tuchel was a brave one, but the board have been justified in their decision. The team now have a designated style of play and they are slowly growing in confidence under their German head coach. Although they have been able to record statement wins over Manchester City and Liverpool, they continue to falter in some easier fixtures. If West Ham set up with a deep block and look to counter with pace, they could pose problems for the Blues.
Jesse Lingard has now scored nine goals in ten Premier League appearances for West Ham. This is his best ever season for goals in his Premier League career.
Kepa Arrizabalaga has now kept five successive clean sheets under Thomas Tuchel across all competitions.
It has been an exceptional few months for Jesse Lingard. When he was rumoured to be available for loan, he was seen as a joke figure with supporters not wanting their club to sign him. David Moyes took the decision to strengthen his attack, as Lingard could provide qualities that were lacking in the rest of the squad. It is looking like a decision that could earn his team Champions League football, as the midfielder is one of the most in-form players in European football. His performances have earned him an England recall and there are some that believe Manchester United were wrong to let him go. There will be hunger within Lingard to continue this form and finish the season strongly to ensure a place at the European championships. The 28-year-old has nine goals and three assists, with a goal involvement every 73.8 minutes. It will be impossible to maintain this incredible rate, but he is full of confidence and he will cause problems for Chelsea.
One of Lingard’s main competitors for a starting spot for England will be Mason Mount. The Chelsea midfielder looks set to play a leading role for the Three Lions in the summer, due to his versatility. He can play in a deeper midfield role, or as part of the forward line. It was interesting to see that Tuchel played him in central midfield against Brighton, as he has been previously used as one of the three attackers. For Chelsea, he is one of the first names on the team sheet and he can be effective in either role. This season, his reputation has soared and he is seen as one of the best players in the Premier League. He has contributed six goals and four assists, showing his quality in the final third. At the age of 22, he could develop into an excellent player and it looks likely that he will be at the centre of the Tuchel era at Stamford Bridge.
Craig Dawson will be missing due to suspension. It is hoped that Jesse Lingard, Aaron Cresswell and Arthur Masuaku should all be back to feature for the Hammers. Declan Rice and Michail Antonio remain long term injury concerns. Neither will play on Saturday.
Thiago Silva is a doubt with a knock. Mateo Kovacic is likely to miss out with a thigh injury. Cesar Azpilicueta and Edouard Mendy could both be in line for returns after rests.
This will be a fascinating contest, as these two teams are competing for the same aim. West Ham have been vulnerable at the back in recent weeks, but they will benefit if Aaron Cresswell is back to slot into the back three. His delivery could be key in producing chances at the other end. That said, Chelsea have found an impressive consistency under Tuchel and they are emerging as a potential title challenger next season. They should have enough quality to get a crucial three points.
West Ham United 1-2 Chelsea