Chelsea Women at West Ham United, WSL preview, predicted XI

After a triumphant trip to the Netherlands, Chelsea Women return to England for a Women's Super League fixture in east London against rival West Ham United.
AFC Ajax v Chelsea FC - UEFA Women's Champions League 2023/24 Quarter Final Leg One
AFC Ajax v Chelsea FC - UEFA Women's Champions League 2023/24 Quarter Final Leg One / BSR Agency/GettyImages

On the same weekend of the Manchester Derby at the Etihad Stadium, Chelsea Women encounter a London rival for the second consecutive Women's Super League contest. This time, it isn't a top-half outfit. Before the Blues meet the defending Dutch champions at Stamford Bridge mid-week, they travel to east London for the third contest of the campaign against Rehanne Skinner's West Ham United.

Back in January, these two squared off in the fourth round of the FA Cup, the first fixture for the two after the long winter hiatus. Captained by the strong midfield performance of Erin Cuthbert, Chelsea edged its East London foe 3-1 in extra time. It was the first glimpse of the Blues following the Sam Kerr injury news. Lauren James acted as the No. 9 until Mia Fishel came on in the 59' to net a vital right-footed screamer that would end up forcing extra time.

We have to go all the way back to October for the last league outing. Melanie Leupolz was the X-factor on both ends alongside Sophie Ingle in central midfield. Niamh Charles picked up her third assist in the first three WSL contests during those 90 minutes as the Blues scored two and let in none.

The theme: it has never been a cake walk when the Claret and Blue line up opposite.

Sunday will be the West Londoners' third match within a nine-day span. Two multiple-goal victories against two quality opponents in two different competitions. It's been one special stretch of football since the international break for a team that has limited options up front and in the back. Hayes isn't by any means using the condensed preparation between matches as a rationale for a potentially sluggish performance.

"We love being in this position. We love the pressure on us with the game accumulations. We make no excuses and we're not victims of anything," Chelsea's long-time leader explained.

Injury updates are a main topic of discussion for both sides of the club. Per Hayes, Mayra Ramirez and Nathalie Bjorn were in training on Friday, but only for 30 minutes. Their status for Sunday is unknown as the team will reassess them closer to the fixture. You have to assume that the coaching staff will likely play it really safe with these two, especially with how critical they could be to the end-of-season success. Expect Lauren James at the nine with maybe Fran Kirby back in the frontline opposite Guro Reiten or Johanna Rytting Kaneryd.

Though the Hammers are sitting on 12 points, they are still very much in the driver's seat to stay in the top flight for another season. Bristol City, winners of only one fixture in its return to the WSL are a whole six points behind West Ham in 12th position. For Skinner, this fight for survival is not an experience she aims to relive in East London.

“We want our women’s team to be right up there competing," said the ex-Tottenham coach. "Ultimately, we want to make sure we’re never involved in the bottom half of the table again.”

Despite dropping two of the last three with the last defeat being at the hands of Liverpool, we have seen steps forward after the transfer window. Skinner's crew has picked up two of its three triumphs since the turn of the new year including the club's first-ever win over London rival Arsenal. WHU may not have won since, but it did manage to earn an impressive home draw against Manchester United thanks to Viviane Asseyi after going down a goal within the first five minutes.

"West Ham took us to 120 minutes of football in the cup and they beat Arsenal at home," stated Hayes in her pre-match presser. "They've competed really well against the top teams so absolutely no underestimation from us."

Australian international Katrina Gorry has been a quality addition to the Hammers' midfield after coming over from Vittsjö GIK in January. In just 522 WSL minutes played, Gorry remarkably leads WHU for the most successful take-ons this season. 30-year-old French forward Asseyi and Japanese international Riko Ueki are pretty much the club's only goal threats. The two combine for 10 of the 17 league goals so far.

Four of Asseyi's goals have come since the turn of the calendar year. The 24-year-old Ueki is always going to be a threat on the counter-attack and within a counter-press due to her activity off the ball. Hawa Cissoko and the back-three along with Mackenzie Arnold between the sticks will have to be brilliant to earn a result on Sunday. The last clean sheet the East Londoners kept on home soil was last April when Liverpool piled up just one shot on target, the only one for either outfit that day.

March 2019 was the most recent non-Chelsea triumph in this fixture. Gilly Flaherty, an ex-Blue converted a second-half equalizer at Kingsmeadow to hold the home outfit to its sixth draw of that third-place season.

Chelsea Women at West Ham United predicted starting XI

Goalkeeper: Hannah Hampton

Defenders: Jess Carter, Niamh Charles, Eve Perisset, Kadeisha Buchanan

Midfielders: Erin Cuthbert, Sjoeke Nusken, Sophie Ingle

Forwards: Lauren James, Johanna Rytting Kaneryd, Fran Kirby

Chelsea Women at West Ham United match info

Date: Sunday, March 22

Time/Place: 16:30 GMT, 12:30 p.m. EST at Chigwell Construction Stadium

TV Broadcast: Paramount+ (USA), Sky Sports (UK)