Chelsea entertain West Ham to Stamford Bridge for a match the Blue must win to keep themselves safe in a top four spot.
Eden Hazard admits Chelsea have no margin for error as the Blues try to remain in control of the race to qualify for the Champions League.
Rafael Benitez’s side, fourth in the Premier League, host London rivals West Ham on Sunday with victory essential to keep ahead of fifth placed Arsenal and in touch with third placed Tottenham.
By the time Chelsea kick off this weekend they could be only two points in front of Arsenal, if the Gunners win at Swansea on Saturday, and Belgian playmaker Hazard is aware the pressure will start to mount on his team if they slip up against the Hammers.
“Three points are a must for us on Sunday, we need to win the match,” Hazard said.
“Chelsea are a big club. We have to win titles and to qualify for the Champions League. There’s a lot to do but we’ll try to do it all.”
After months of abuse from Chelsea fans, interim boss Benitez is no closer to winning over the Stamford Bridge faithful judging by the empty seats and poisonous atmosphere that provided the backdrop for Thursday’s Europa League win over Steaua Bucharest.
But, despite the constant sense of chaos surrounding Chelsea, the team are still in with a chance of winning the Europa League and FA Cup.
They face an FA Cup quarter-final replay against Manchester United and a Europa League last-eight clash with Rubin Kazan, meaning Benitez’s men face six games in 16 days.
The international break which follows Sunday’s derby will offer a pause for breath, but first Chelsea will seek to cement their place in the top four and Hazard hopes the lack of recent action for West Ham, who will be playing just their second match of the month, can benefit his team.
“It might favour us at the start of the game because we should be able to set the tempo and get into our stride quicker because we’ve been more used to playing competitive games recently,” Hazard said.
“But where it might favour them slightly is the fact that towards the end of the game tiredness may set in for us, while in effect they should be stronger because they’ve had a bit of a rest.
“It’s something we have to deal with, and with the support of our fans behind us I’m sure we will be able to.”
Chelsea suffered the first defeat of Benitez’s reign at Upton Park in December, throwing away the lead in a 3-1 loss, and it is a painful memory for Hazard, who concedes his team-mates will have to be far more switched on if they want to avoid a repeat.
“At Upton Park, one or two errors crept in, particularly during the second half, but we were very good in the first half,” Hazard said.
“We need to try to repeat that first-half display on Sunday and make sure we get a positive result. We are going into the game in good form, so we should be able to produce a strong performance.”
Sunday’s trip across London to face Chelsea will be one of only three fixtures for West Ham throughout March due to their FA Cup elimination and the international week.
Hammers boss Sam Allardyce, who will be without midfield trio Kevin Nolan, Mark Noble and Joe Cole, concedes it is a far from ideal situation.
“We knew the situation,” he said. “All we can do is do what we did last time we played and try to win because then it makes the two weeks pretty pleasurable to get through.
“We have got exactly the same situation on Sunday when we have two weeks again before we play West Brom and we have got to try and handle it the best we can.
“I would rather have played last weekend but I’m not sure about Chelsea playing Thursday night and Sunday because that is the hardest thing to overcome.”
Venue Stamford Bridge, Sunday 4pm
Last season Chelsea 3 West Ham 0
Referee M Oliver
This season’s matches 18 Y46, R1, 2.61 cards per game
Subs from Turnbull, Hilário, Ferreira, Bertrand, Terry, Azpilicueta, Ake, Benayoun, Mikel, Moses, Marin, Torres
Doubtful Torres (nose)
Injured Romeu (knee, Aug)
Form guide WLWLDW
Disciplinary record Y40 R2
Leading scorer Ba 15 (13 for Newcastle)
Subs from Spiegel, Tomkins, Pogatetz, McCartney, Diarra, C Cole, Vaz Tê, Maïga, Chamakh
Doubtful J Cole (hamstring), McCartney (knee)
Injured Nolan (toe, 23 Mar), Noble (arm, 23 Mar), Potts (concussion, unknown)
Form guide WLLWLL
Disciplinary record Y55 R1
Leading scorer Nolan 6
West Ham ended a 12-match winless streak against Chelsea by winning the reverse fixture 3-1 in December. The hosts came from behind to triumph thanks to goals from Carlton Cole, Mohamed Diame and Modibo Maiga.
The Hammers have only taken one point from their last six visits to Stamford Bridge since a 3-2 victory in September 2002. Paolo Di Canio scored twice for the visitors, while Frank Lampard played for Chelsea and John Terry was an unused substitute.
This is the 99th meeting of the clubs in all competitions. They are level on 35 league wins apiece.
Chelsea have taken 28 points from a possible 48 in the league under Rafa Benitez (W8, D4, L4). It’s the fourth-best record over this period, behind Manchester United, Tottenham and Manchester City.
It’s 12 years since the Blues last lost a Premier League home game in the month of March, a 4-2 defeat against Sunderland in 2001.
They have the second best goalscoring and defensive records in the division prior to this weekend’s fixtures.
Chelsea have been awarded a league-high nine penalties this season and have scored seven of them.
Frank Lampard has scored 199 goals for Chelsea, three behind Bobby Tambling’s club record tally. He made his top-flight debut for West Ham in January 1996 and scored 24 goals in 148 league matches for The Hammers before joining Chelsea for £11m in 2001.
Fernando Torres has gone 11 hours and 22 minutes since last scoring a Premier League goal.
Demba Ba scored seven goals in 12 league appearances for West Ham in 2010-11.
West Ham have won two of their last four games but taken only 14 points from their last 16 matches.
They earned their first Premier League away win since November in their most recent game, at Stoke a fortnight ago. It ended a dismal run of one point from eight away games.
The Hammers have not managed successive Premier League victories since February-March 2011.
Sam Allardyce’s side have conceded a league-high 11 goals in the opening 15 minutes of matches this season.
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