Life has turned full circle for seasoned West Ham United manager Sam Allardyce since he last took his team to Chelsea.
At the end of January the Hammers were mired in the relegation zone, the fans were calling for Allardyce to be sacked and he was the bookmakers’ favourite for the chop.
They arrived at Stamford Bridge with 18 points from 22 games and even after a worthy 0-0 draw Chelsea Jose Mourinho accused Allardyce of playing “19th century” brand of football.
Despite Mourinho’s stinging rebuke, it was a result that helped West Ham turn the corner and nearly a year on they are sitting pretty in fourth spot with 31 points from 17 matches and talk of a Champions League spot is not being dismissed.
No wonder former Bolton boss Allardyce cannot keep the smile off his face as he prepares for the Boxing Day trip across London to take on Mourinho’s table-toppers.
“It was memorable for how well we played!” Allardyce, who would welcome more criticism from the Portuguese on Friday, recalled of January’s goalless draw.
“I think it was a compliment by the fact a frustrated manager vented his frustration about the fact that he couldn’t break down the team he was playing against.
“Chelsea can beat you five or six-nil on their ground and I think, on the back of our results before we went there it would have made life for the owners even more difficult to get behind me — but that’s not water under the bridge, it’s water in the sea, water in the Atlantic Ocean it is that far gone.”
The mood is completely different this time with a Hammers team bolstered by signings such as strikers Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia and former Arsenal midfielder Alex Song.
Rather than just go and shut up shop, Allardyce will send his team to Stamford Bridge to attack.
“This one is totally different. We’re fourth in the league this time and we’ve got better, younger players and hopefully we will go and give a good account of ourselves – and a good account of ourselves is getting a result, not playing well and a loss,” he said.
Allardyce says Mourinho is the “best working club manager in the world at the moment” and his Chelsea counterpart, who has never lost a home London derby, has been impressed with West Ham’s progress this season.
“I have seen them in a couple of games this season and they’re very strong. We expect a hard game, but we go into it with confidence, which is very important,” Mourinho said.