Chelsea look to swap derby disappointment for derby success vs. West Ham
After a difficult week of soul-searching following Chelsea's first home defeat to Tottenham in 28 years and the tragic passing of club legend Ray Wilkins, Antonio Conte will be grateful that there is something else upon which to concentrate the club's energy.
This Sunday sees Chelsea embroiled in another London derby when West Ham travel across the capital in a clash that will focus the minds of everyone. A rivalry almost as heated as that with Tottenham, the visit of David Moyes' team should be enough to shake the team and the crowd out of any introspection.
Any lingering disappointment amongst the squad following last weekend's defeat should hopefully have been cast out over a week uninterrupted by any other engagements. With a full seven days to prepare, Antonio Conte will have drilled into his players the importance of bouncing back, stating in Friday's news conference that "everyone must show pride at this moment and not to complain or cry". Such sentiments will be music to the ears of Chelsea supporters ahead of the clash with West Ham. Losing at home to two sets of arch-rivals in the same week would be too much to bear.
On paper, Chelsea shouldn't have too much trouble on Sunday if they play anywhere near the level that they are capable of reaching. West Ham have lost each of their last three away games, two of which were against fellow strugglers Brighton and Swansea. They have taken just 11 points from 48 available away from home this season which suggests that their woes are not confined to the mutinous atmosphere at the London Stadium. West Ham also haven't won at Stamford Bridge since September 2002 when an eye-catching brace from Paolo Di Canio earned them a 3-2 win. Then again, until last Sunday, Spurs hadn't won at Chelsea since 1990.
West Ham will not be completely lacking in confidence. Last Saturday's 3-0 win over Southampton will have delivered a much-needed morale boost and dampened the ire of their supporters for the time being. They will also know that they have already beaten the Blues this season when Antonio Conte's men were unable to recover from an early Marko Arnautovic strike in early December. That victory ended a wretched run of five defeats and three draws in the previous eight games to prove once again that league position and form can count for nothing in a London derby. And with Chelsea licking their wounds after their own disappointment the Hammers might just be smelling blood.
It is imperative, however, that Chelsea react and get back to winning ways. Qualifying for the Champions League is now extremely difficult and has been wrenched away from their own hands. But it is not yet mathematically impossible. It is hard to fathom either Tottenham or Liverpool enduring such a poor run that they become susceptible to being overtaken but it would be criminal if one of them did falter and Chelsea were not there to take advantage.
If any further motivation were needed, it should be pointed out that Arsenal are now just five points behind Chelsea in the Premier League table. In recent times, the North Londoners have had a habit of enjoying a late-season surge to supply a veneer of acceptability to an otherwise uninspiring campaign. Two 3-0 wins on the trot hints at a possible repeat and Chelsea should take heed. The ignominy of finishing below the worst Arsenal side of the Arsene Wenger era would be even worse than losing at home to Tottenham and West Ham in successive weeks.
Sunday's match, therefore, is vital for a number of footballing reasons but more important is ensuring that it is a fitting tribute to "Butch" Wilkins. A gloriously graceful midfielder, a proper Londoner and an utter gentlemen, his loss will be keenly felt at Stamford Bridge and across English football. There would be no better way to respect his memory than for Chelsea and West Ham to put on a game for the ages.
Phil is one of ESPN's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @PhilLythell.