Chelsea flops overshadowed by West Ham's Euro bid
18 March 2016, 11:23
London -It is a measure of how unsuccessful Chelsea's season has been that Guus Hiddink's side will be cast in the supporting role when West Ham visit Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
Slaven Bilic's Hammers have emerged as one of the surprise successes of an unpredictable campaign and are currently lying fifth in the Premier League, just two points adrift of Manchester City in fourth place in the race to qualify for the Champions League.
Yet while West Ham are hoping to mark their move to the Olympic Stadium next season with a place in Europe's elite club competition, Chelsea's sole ambition is to improve on their current standing in 10th and challenge for a berth in next season's Europa League.
Their Champions League exit at the hands of Paris Saint Germain, followed by last weekend's FA Cup quarter-final defeat against Everton, brought an abrupt end to Hiddink's hopes of marking his second spell as interim manager with silverware.
The Dutchman will remain in charge until the end of the season, but it is hard to avoid the sense the west London club are merely treading water ahead of a number of changes during the close season.
Chief amongst those will be the arrival of a new manager, with Italy coach Antonio Conte apparently set to be confirmed as Jose Mourinho's permanent successor.
The former Juventus manager will contribute to the overhaul of a squad that has stalled badly following their Premier League title triumph 12 months ago.
Diego Costa's dismissal at Everton means he will be missing against West Ham and the controversy surrounding his clash with Gareth Barry fuelled suggestions the Spain striker is keen to engineer a move back to Atletico Madrid.
Reports from Spain suggest Eden Hazard, hugely disappointing this season after being named player of the year last term, has already agreed a move in principle to Real Madrid.
The future of John Terry remains unresolved, with the decision on whether to offer the club captain a new contract on top of the new manager's in-tray.
Alexandre Pato, the Corinthians forward, is unlikely to be at the club beyond the term of his current loan deal having failed to make a single appearance so far.
Three successive league wins have strengthened West Ham's position, although Bilic is refusing to be drawn on what sort of points total will be needed to secure a top four finish.
"I don't know, I'm not using that kind of maths. All I know about England is that you have to reach 40 points to stay up!" he said.
"I don't know how many 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.
"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.
"In any league, especially here, there are no guarantees. We are totally focused on the possibility of three points and then it's going to be one less game to go with hopefully an even better position."
West Ham's position is even more remarkable considering the dip in form they endured during a run of eight games without a win in November and December.
"Injury-wise we were in a really bad position in November and December when we were without six or seven players," Bilic said.
"But it was a very important period for us to gain confidence and character because we weren't losing games.
"We were basically drawing them and we showed stubbornness and all that and that was very important."
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