West Ham go into Sunday’s meeting with Chelsea full of confidence after last weekend’s impressive win at Goodison Park last weekend.
Maurizio Sarri’s men have benefitted from the limelight being elsewhere at the start of the season, winning all five matches to sit atop the Premier League.
Sarri’s new attacking, high-pressing approach is already proving a hit. It will be a tough assignment for the Hammers, but where are the individual battles that must be won in order to triumph in the war? We’ve picked out three…
Pablo Zabaleta vs Eden Hazard
Pellegrini called on the experience of his trusted lieutenant Zabaleta last weekend. His passion and leadership added a different dimension to the Hammers’ best performance of the season.
However, the 33-year-old was fortunate he was not up against the suspended Richarlison, who could have caused his aging legs a problem with his pace.
This weekend, he is up against the form player in the Premier League, arguably in Europe. Eden Hazard bagged a hat-trick last time out against Cardiff; he is clearly loving life under Sarri.
Zabaleta will need all his experience, and support from Issa Diop, Declan Rice and Andriy Yarmolenko around him, to shackle Hazard.
If he manages it, it will give West Ham’s chances of getting a result a huge boost.
Pedro Obiang vs N’Golo Kante
One of the key improvements at Goodison was the energy in midfield. Pedro Obiang’s introduction and the switch to 4-3-3 allowed for a much greater link between defence and attack.
Sarri’s 4-3-3 has seen N’Golo Kante’s position tweaked; Jorginho is now the Blues’ deepest midfielder, with Kante now more advanced. His energy is integral to Chelsea’s pressing game and 26-year-old Obiang must match it.
The downside of Sarri’s switch is that Kante doesn’t have the guile of an elite playmaker. He is unlikely to unlock the Hammers’ backline, especially with Obiang snapping at his heels.
Going up against Kante is as tough a test as Obiang can face in the Premier League. Match him, and Chelsea’s rhythm will be disrupted.
Andriy Yarmolenko vs Marcos Alonso
Under Antonio Conte, Alonso was one of Chelsea’s main attacking weapons. But when he was switched to a more auxiliary left-back role under Sarri, many expected his forward rampages to be kerbed.
That has not been the case. He has continued to motor forward, with one goal and four assists in just five league games so far.
Therefore, his battle with Andriy Yarmolenko could be a game of cat and mouse. As mentioned above, Zabaleta has his hands full with Hazard and Alonso’s overlaps could overrun him.
Yarmolenko must combine defensive diligence with breaking forward on the counter attack. His two goals at Goodison will have Chelsea concerned.