Top-four finish is crucial for Chelsea, admits John Terry
As a Barking boy, John Terry knows all about the intensity of rivalry between Chelsea and West Ham, separated as they may be by the width of the capital. He therefore felt the 3-1 defeat at Upton Park this season more keenly than most, despite being injured at the time.
It was a game in which victory would have helped Rafa Benitez win over a few doubters after starting his tenure as Roberto Di Matteo's successor with two goalless draws, but a dominant first-half display and 1-0 lead were obliterated as the home side came back with three second-half goals.
It is in Benitez's favour, and Chelsea's, that the atmosphere this afternoon for West Ham's first visit to Stamford Bridge in two years will be considerably better than it was among a crowd of only 28,000 last Thursday night, when the raucous Romanian supporters of Steaua Bucharest were silenced only at the final whistle, Chelsea having hung on for a 3-2 aggregate win in the Europa League.
Tight the margins may have been, but for the second time in five days Chelsea passed a test, having looked in trouble at half-time – just as they were before recovering from a two-goal deficit to draw at Manchester United last weekend.
For Terry, that was the sort of defiance he loves. "I think one thing about this football club and the players here, we are mentally very strong," he says. "We have dealt with ups and downs throughout season after season here. And we will always remain together.
"You know, you talk about togetherness at a club, but when you go 2-0 down at Man United, then you see the real team spirit," he added. "Nine times out of 10, other teams would chuck the towel in. We went the other way and we kicked on and absolutely went for it. That's what you want to see."
It is what Chelsea supporters want to see, and it frustrates them that they have not done so often enough this season, as Terry readily admits: "We've not really been playing too well all season. We have had spells, [been] up and down. We know we have another level to go to. With everyone in front of us [in the Premier League], we are quite encouraged that if we put on a good run, if we put in some good form, we can pick up some points and catch the teams above us.
"That's the target: to make the Champions' League next year, which is a must for this club. We've got a big derby at the weekend and we have to aim to just pick up wins and just keep winning games, putting on the pressure."
Pressure in turn will be applied on Chelsea by a heavier weight of games than any other team now that they have kept themselves in contention for the FA Cup and Europa League. Benitez will keep rotating his players, with Frank Lampard expected to return against his former club today and Terry hoping to be allowed a second game in a week after sitting out the visit to Old Trafford.
West Ham, in contrast, have almost the opposite problem, with today's game the only one scheduled between 2 March and 30 March. They would have wanted Kevin Nolan and Joe Cole available, while the midfield pair's expected absence will allow a start for Jack Collison, who scored the winning goal at Stoke in the last game, and Gary O'Neil.
The Hammers have fallen from a top-six place in November to the bottom half of the table, and O'Neil says their confidence took a hit in a series of difficult games after the Chelsea victory.
"Because we started the season so well and were on a decent run, it surprised me a little bit how much it knocks your confidence, even losing to the big teams," he admits. "It's hard to get back going again after playing four or five really tough games on the trot.
"We didn't get too many points, and when you come to play teams you expect to be beating, you still struggle to get back to the heights you were before," O'Neil adds. "I think we have overcome that now, pushed on a little bit and had a couple of decent performances against Spurs and Stoke, and we are just looking to finish [the season] as strongly as we can."
Chelsea v West Ham United is on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 4pm
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