Chelsea return to domestic action this weekend with their first London derby of the season, a trip to Upton Park to face former boss Avram Grant and West Ham United. Carlo Ancelotti will have an almost fully fit squad to select from for Saturday’s clash as captain John Terry and former Hammer Frank Lampard should be fit to start after missing England’s internationals against Bulgaria and Switzerland.
Lampard needed a hernia operation on his groin after Chelsea’s last match, their 2-0 win over Stoke City on 28 August and Terry struggled with a hamstring injury in the build-up to the game. Ancelotti assured that should the pair come through training unscathed they will play against their East London rivals. “We will see how Lampard trains and we will take a decision for the game against West Ham,” Ancelotti said. “Terry didn’t have surgery but he used the last week to improve his hamstring.”
In the way of a fourth successive league win is a West Ham side that currently props up the Premier League, without a point in three games. New Hammers Head Coach Avram Grant is of course a familiar face at Stamford Bridge having taken over the leadership of the Blues in the wake of Jose Mourinho’s departure in September 2007. Despite assuming the mantle of a European giant for the first time, Grant was relatively successful during his eight month spell in charge, losing only two of 32 League fixtures – his first match away to Manchester United and at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium.
He led Chelsea to the Carling Cup final, where they lost for the only time at the new Wembley Stadium to date, suffering a 2-1 reverse against Tottenham Hotspur. He also managed the side to within a whisker of the Premier League title, as they went into the final day of the season level on points with Manchester United. A final day draw at home to Bolton Wanderers coupled with victory for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men ensured the title stayed at Old Trafford. Most notable however was the way the Israeli united Chelsea’s shocked side after Mourinho’s departure as he achieved what the Special One never could in reaching the 2008 Champions League final. He broke the European spell Liverpool cast over Chelsea in the semi-finals as after a 1-1 draw at Anfield, the Blues triumphed 3-2 on a memorable night at Stamford Bridge to reach the final in Moscow against Manchester United. There of course Grant came within a John Terry penalty kick of lifting the famous trophy and overcoming the odds of facing the legend that is Ferguson in his relatively inexperienced career at the top level of football management. Grant left the club that summer, despite having seemingly won over most fans with a reputable status attained. He met his former employers in last season’s FA Cup final and as Portsmouth manager suffered defeat at the last hurdle again, as Didier Drogba’s free-kick saw Ancelotti’s Chelsea end the season as Double winners.
Grant will have a huge task to stop Chelsea from continuing their perfect start to the season as the normally frantic international break had a decidedly more relaxed vibe for the Stamford Bridge first-teamers. As well as Terry and Lampard, Drogba and Michael Essien did not travel to play for Ivory Coast and Ghana respectively, given time to recover from previous injuries, whilst Alex’s Brazil did not have an international meeting. Of those who travelled to play for their respective European countries, just Florent Malouda, Yossi Benayoun and Ashley Cole played 90 minutes in both their national sides’ matches. Malouda continued his fine start to the season by finding the net for France in their 2-0 win in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Benayoun capped a fine performance as captain of Israel as he scored a hat-trick in a 3-1 victory over Malta. Yuri Zhirkov was suspended for the first match of Russia’s double-header with Andorra and Slovakia while Petr Cech’s Czech Republic had one match over the four days, a disappointing 1-0 defeat to Lithuania in Prague. As the 2012 African Cup of Nations qualifiers got underway there were winning starts for Salomon Kalou who scored for Ivory Coast as they beat Rwanda 3-0 and John Obi Mikel with Nigeria seeing off Madagascar 2-0. The only major player who will likely miss the clash with West Ham is Branislav Ivanovic as the Serbian defender was forced to withdraw from international duty due to a back injury sustained in Chelsea’s 6-0 triumph over Wigan Athletic earlier in the season.