West Ham’s recent strong run has seen them close in on the Premier League’s top four, but Slaven Bilic refuses to get carried away ahead of this weekend’s trip to Chelsea.
The Hammers go into Saturday’s clash at Stamford Bridge on the back of three consecutive league wins, a run which has seen them ascend to fifth, just two points shy of a Champions League qualification spot.
With the likes of regular European contenders Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United stuttering in recent weeks, Bilic’s side are presented with a fine opportunity to bring Champions League football to their new home at the Olympic Stadium next season.
But next standing in their way are reigning Premier League champions Chelsea, who are hurting badly after suffering elimination from both the Champions League and the FA Cup since their last league outing.
Defeats to Paris Saint-Germain and Everton in those competitions have ended any hopes of silverware, but in his pre-match news conference on Thursday Bilic warned those disappointments may serve to focus the minds of Guus Hiddink’s side.
“We are always trying to be positive. But as I told you, our season plan was to approach game by game and to try to win every game that we are playing and not thinking about where it will bring us,” said the Croat when asked of his side’s Champions League chances.
“Now we are in the situation where we are standing good. There are still a lot of points to play for but we have a chance to finish real high, but also there are a lot of teams below us queuing and our aim is to continue to play like this and pick up points and then hopefully it’s going to take us high.
“I don’t know how many [points] you need to get in the Europa League or the Champions League or whatever. It’s just game by game and so far that kind of thinking has put us in a very good situation and to be fair in my opinion it is the only way that any club should think.
“Because you can’t go and play Chelsea and then expect three points against whoever…it doesn’t work like that. Because in any league, especially here, there are no guarantees.”
Although 10th-placed Chelsea come into the game having suffered double disappointment, they remain unbeaten in the league in the 13 matches since Hiddink took over from Jose Mourinho in December.
The Dutchman is unlikely to extend his second spell as interim boss beyond the end of the season, when Italy head coach Antonio Conte is widely expected to be appointed.
Hiddink will be forced to contend without Diego Costa, who is suspended following his red card at Everton, while Eden Hazard missed that game with a hip injury and is rated as doubtful.
West Ham, meanwhile, are without defenders James Collins (hamstring) and James Tomkins (calf), while on-loan winger Victor Moses is ineligible to play against his parent club.
Andy Carroll scored the winner in October’s reverse fixture as West Ham prevailed 2-1, but they have not won at Stamford Bridge since 2002.
Key Opta Stats:
– Chelsea have won seven and lost none of the last nine Barclays Premier League games against West Ham at Stamford Bridge.
– Overall, West Ham have won just two of the last 19 Premier League meetings with Chelsea (W2 D3 L14).
– Dimitri Payet has five goals and five assists in his last seven competitive appearances for West Ham United.
– Michail Antonio has scored five headers from just five headed attempts on target in the Premier League this season.
– Chelsea are the only team in the Premier League not to concede a goal inside the opening 15 minutes of a match this season.
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