Overly long writings about West Ham United FC. This is the kind of thing you might like, if you like this kind of thing.

Friday, February 29, 2008

West Ham United vs Chelsea: Match Preview - 01/03/2008

1. Lessons Learned

During my brief tenure as Preview Meister, I have learned that some H-Lists are harder to write than others and that it can be a struggle to write about teams like Derby or Fulham with any conviction. Conversely, with fixtures like Chelsea, previews write themselves.

Thanks to Frank Lampard, I am blessed with a rich bounty (and a Twix and four Snickers) of material...

2. Fever Pitch

So, here we are - awaiting the return of arguably West Ham's most reviled exile, although Judas Ince still firmly registers.

There's no doubt that Lampard has gone on to bigger, bigger and bigger things since he left (XXXXXXL fat pants, credit accounts with Krispy Kreme Donuts), but he can always rely upon us to give him a reality check should he get too big for his boots.

How he can not be too big for any boots is a wonder. They must resemble margarine-smeared oil tankers.

3. History

Last season saw us succumb to a 4-1 home defeat after Pope Tevez had banged in an impressive riposte to Shaun Wright Phillips' opener. Wright-Philips struck again almost instantly with a lovely effort (the readers choice for Best Opposition Goal of last year's The H List Awards) to knock the wind from our sails before Kalou and Drogba sealed the win for Chelsea.

We have lost to Chelsea in our last five Premier League meetings, our last victory being at home in 2003 thanks to a DiCanio strike. Joe Cole played for us that day with his namesake Carlton coming on as a substitute for the opposition.

Oddly enough, our overall record against The Blues in all competitions is perfectly balanced, having won 36, lost36 and drawn 16.

More recent events have given us cause for optimism. We were unlucky not to have come away from Stamford Bridge with anything less than a draw earlier this season after a combative performance was undone by a questionable Joe Cole winner.

This was one of those few occasions when despite the result, we all felt proud of the team for taking the game to the opposition. Only Joe Cole's offside goal and the fact that the man with the laser-guided weapons system failed to fire at Drogba took the sheen off an entertaining away day.

We have done well at home against The Big Four this year, taking six points from a possible nine and conceding only two goals in all three encounters. Chelsea always seem to be the team that we struggle to nick points off, however.

Not that they are superior to their fellow title-contenders, just that against them our players not only have to raise their game, but simultaneously bear the ceaseless threat of being basted in sweet chilli sauce by The Blues salivating Number 8.

4. Steadying The Ship

Avram Grant has proved doubters wrong by maintaining the on-pitch consistency of his predecessor - a feat even more impressive considering he spends hours every morning clearing the mountain of anthrax-filled hate mail from the doors of Toad Hall.

Spookily, his early record of results was identical to that of Mourinho's and he has managed to wipe all the tears from the Kings Road Crèche after some initial tantrums. The fact that all the players know they won't get paid anywhere near as well at any other club probably helped.

His most impressive achievement however, despite international condemnation, has been to tactfully negotiate the safe passage of those brave Japanese whalers who have delivered shipment upon uninterrupted shipment of whale blubber to Lampard's landfill of a mouth.

5. Blue Moon

Fat Frank's more recent goal celebration (when he points to the moon) is reportedly due to the name of his firstborn daughter, Luna. More considered thinking tells us this isn't the case.

The potentially devastating effect that Lampard's corpulence could have on the Earth's ocean tides is well documented. Were it not for the restoration of this delicate equilibrium between Moon and Gut via the goal celebration, the seas would rise exponentially.

This wouldn't affect Frank himself as he would constitute the sole surviving continent, but distorted fish migration patterns would affect his mid-mid-morning butty, which he enjoys between brunch and lunch, just after elevensies but prior to his midday 'butter bricks'.

6. Injuries

Last Saturday saw a few faces emerge from the blackhole of our treatment room. Nobby Solano came on for the last half an hour, skillfully slamming home the winner with his Peruvian elbow having done his utmost to kick Antti Niemi's head off.

Nobby was a second half replacement for Julien Faubert, who managed a full hour before being substituted. Dean Ashton was noticeable by his presence on the bench and it seems that nothing can shake Curbishley's belief that Boa Morte is something more than a conceptual theory, as Luis walked straight back into the starting XI.

I am in agreement with HeadHammer Shark's belief (detailed in the Birmingham review, below - just the three weeks late) that Ashton needs a little more time and support. As the old adage goes, 'form is temporary, class permanent' and Deano certainly showed us his class pre-injury.

Whether he sticks with us to the other side of this prolongued dip in form remains to be seen. I increasingly get the feeling that it won't take the biggest of clubs to come in for him in order to pry our most gifted striker away.

There are still absentees, but we may be treated to a few other familiar faces pointlessly strolling up and down the touchline in the vain hope that Curbishley will omit Boa Morte for any reason other than death.

And even then he'll probably get 15 minutes.

And put in one of his more lively performances.

Chelsea have nothing to report on the injury front, although Fat Frank has recently had to endure a spell on the sidelines due to a "thigh strain". Those in the know are fully aware that he was attacked by wolves who mistook the back of his fat neck for a packet of hotdogs.

7. You What?

Lampard has spoken out this week in protest at how today's young footballers are overpaid and underworked:

"Everything is easy. They don't have to clean boots any more, they drive BMWs, they get a very easy life. Sometimes they walk past you in the corridor and don't give you a second look."

I know. Staggering, isn't it.

I'm sorry, Frank - but have you considered that these poor lads are unable to fall at your knees in adoration as they pass you in over-sized corridors, because they are mashed up against the wall? Unbeknown to you, a couple of them are probably still imprisoned in the folds of your fat back.

Lectures on overpaid prima donnas hold little weight from someone paid £100,000 a week. Criticising people for 'earning' an inordinate amount of money is a bit rich coming from a man who spent thousands on a cereal bowl so big, it came with it's own lifeguard.

8. Steve Bruce Update

It appears that Steve Bruce's Angular Hooter (TM) is affecting his vision more than first feared. The cumulative effect of light bouncing off his panel-beaten nose at every conceivable angle has rendered his vision next to useless.

Evidence of this was given by the man himself last Saturday. After Eduardo's horrific injury at the weekend, Bruce came out with the following:

"I've seen the tackle. Some would say it's not even a yellow card."


9. The Battle For Middle Earth

Oh, how I long to hear the unbridled noise of an erupting Upton Park, not truly heard since our 2-1 win over Man United. It is a sound only surpassed by the deafening roar of sizzling livestock from Fat Frank's mobile hotplate (a coal-fired helipad to you and me).

Midfield is where this game will be won or lost. If previous encounters against the Big Four are anything to go by, Curbishley will pack the centre of the park with a 4-5-1 formation in an attempt to stifle any Chelsea creativity before it gets a chance to flourish.

Chances are this won't be a high-scoring affair as it is between the two clubs whose Premier League games have yielded the lowest numbers of goals - it is also frustrating that we will belooking for our first back-to-back victories in 21 Premier League outings.

Carlton Cole will no doubt be called upon to play the lone striker role over Dean Ashton. Cole has played this part admirably on more than one occasion this season and should be extra keen to make an impact against his former club.

At the other end, the prospect of Drogba and Anelka in tandem is downright scary and so denying them quality service is imperative.

I can see Solano and Faubert being interchangeable with one playing for the first hour, to be replaced by the other for the last 30 minutes. It would be nice to see them both on the pitch together as they are the most creative players we have by some distance, but this would perhaps undermine the solidity needed to keep any marauding Blues in check.

Mullins, Noble and Ljungberg will probably feature along with A N Other - perhaps Bowyer to chop some heads, or Etherington in an attempt to keep the opposition full-backs in check.

Chelsea are abundant in midfield talent with Wright Phillips, Joe Cole, Herr Ballack, Claude Makelele, Florent Malouda and John Obi Mikel to call upon. They also have the largest blancmange in human history to act as an impenetrable if wobbly shield infront of the back four.

While we can't match Chelsea for talent, we can get about them and ruffle a few feathers. It won't be pretty, but I think we'd all take an ugly 2-1 win and a victory for the working man against London's footballing aristocracy. Beating them for work-rate is key.

Often accused of having a poor work-rate himself, Lampard is hindered by the fact that he rocks himself to sleep whenever he tries to get up off the floor.

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