LONDON (Reuters) - Tucked away in mid-table obscurity, West Ham United’s run-in to their maiden season at the London Stadium is in danger of becoming an anti-climax, but if anything can stir some passion it is a visit from Chelsea.
On Monday, under the lights at the former Olympic Stadium, Slaven Bilic’s side have the chance to inflict a bloody nose on a Chelsea side 10 points clear at the top and apparently cantering to the Premier League title.
They have already beaten them once there this season, in the League Cup before Chelsea hit their stride, but the merits of that 2-1 victory were largely overlooked as an always ferocious derby was marred by violent disorder in the stands.
Lessons have been learned from those ugly scenes and security measures beefed up, so Bilic, who was upset that his side received little credit for their cup win, hopefully should have his wish that football makes the headlines.
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has already started counting down the points needed to secure the title, 29 at the last count, but their pursuers will have earmarked Monday’s fixture as one in which his side could stumble.
The news that West Ham striker Andy Carroll is expected to play after recovering from injury adds to the optimism.
Carroll has scored five goals in his last three home London derbies in the Premier League and is one goal away from his 50th strike in the top flight. He has also scored in two of his last three games against Chelsea.
“We have done well without him in the last few games but I‘m sure we would have done better with him because he is one of our key players,” Bilic said. “It will be great to have him on the pitch on Monday and a big blow if he doesn’t make it.”
Chelsea, who needed a last-minute Diego Costa goal to beat West Ham on the opening day of the season at Stamford Bridge, have no particular reason to fear a trip to east London and especially to a stadium that lacks the menace of Upton Park.
Even at West Ham’s fearsome former home, now largely reduced to rubble, they managed to thrive.
The Hammers won two of their last 10 Premier League games against Chelsea at Upton Park and Chelsea have lost only two of their last 21 Premier League games against West Ham.
Even in the League Cup defeat Chelsea started with Costa, Eden Hazard and Pedro on the bench - although they were all introduced in the second half.
That result gives West Ham hope though.
”It means a lot, at least we know it’s not impossible,“ Bilic said. ”We have done it recently and that was also in the period when they began to win games.
“They have improved since then, but so have we. We need a bit of luck but can get a result.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Alison Williams