Chelsea did not put themselves in the best possible position to beat West Ham United on Wednesday. No matter how much Jose Mourinho whines about Sam Allardyce parking the bus, you can't claim to have come to play football when your starting double pivot consists of John Obi Mikel and Ramires, neither of whom is capable of a quick passing game.
38 shots; zero goals. The statisticians will say that the Blues were unlucky, and to a certain extent they're right. In the last twenty minutes or so, a period coinciding with the introduction of Frank Lampard and Nemanja Matic, Chelsea genuinely played well, and Adrian did brilliantly to stop us nicking a late goal. But before then... there was very little.
Oscar and John Terry had the only two significant chances of the first half, with the Brazilian buzzing the woodwork in what was the only incisive attack the Blues conducted before the break and Terry heading at Adrian's feet from a Willian corner. It was actually the Hammers who came closest to breaking the deadlock -- Petr Cech had to save well from a James Tomkins header, and the ball nearly went in anyway after the rebound grazed Kevin Nolan before going on for a free kick.
It was about as dull as it sounds. Neil Swarbrick had no control of the match, conducting himself like the King of the Whimsy Fairies -- the best bit was when he seemed to blame Eden Hazard for taking [insert whichever menace did it if you can be bothered fact-checking]'s studs to his ankle like some sort of troublemaker -- and West Ham were defending well. Our counterattacks were far too slow to catch them out of position, and 'position' according to Allardyce and company appeared to mean 'everyone park the penalty area'. Which is sort of fair play, considering the disparity in talent.
Chelsea were no better after the interval. The Hammers had by then given up any pretense of going forward (Andy Carroll's bizarre miss after Gary Cahill had let Stewart Downing to the byline was a rare exception), which only meant that they were more difficult to break down. Our rather predictable approach to this problem was to patiently probe and then shoot from 30 yards, which generally resulted in either a block or a goal kick; a classic demonstration of what happens when a team is frustrated and wants to score.
Sure, on a different day one of them might have been deflected past Adrian. Nobody's denying the role of luck here, and the footballing gods were clearly against us. But the ideal should be to be so much better than the opposition that luck doesn't play into it, and the starting lineup didn't come anywhere near those lofty heights.
Jose Mourinho changed things up 63 minutes in, pulling off Cesar Azpilicueta and Mikel for Lampard and Matic. Chelsea instantly looked more incisive, so West Ham decided to get about three times as heroic. When the supporters think back to this match, the final half-hour will probably be all that they remember. Chelsea pour forward relentlessly only to be beaten back by a robust, last-ditch challenge or an out-of-nowhere block or a holy-cheesenits-how-did-he-get-there Adrian save.
That's all well and good and it can happen to anyone, but it's important to remember that we only put serious pressure on the Hammers after making late tactical changes, and even then we weren't really set up to play 100 percent effectively. Branislav Ivanovic ended up at left back (and if you hated his attacking play from the right, I'd love to hear about the new words you invented tonight to describe what he was doing out there after those substitutions), and Ramires ended up taking the Serbian's vacated position on the right.
Chelsea inched closer and closer to goal. Demba Ba hit the post from close range. Samuel Eto'o had a goal ruled out for something Swarbrick-y -- apparently he'd given a free kick that he'd neglected to tell anyone about? -- and Lampard forced Adrian into a phenomenal save right at the death, but we couldn't find the breakthrough and the match finished 0-0.
What grand conclusions can we take out of this? Absolutely none. The performance wasn't great, West Ham defended well, and the starting lineup wasn't set up to break down a wall of claret and blue shirts -- and Chelsea still probably win more often than not under the same conditions. That said, I think we probably rested players in anticipation of the big match against Manchester City on Monday, and that made it less likely for us to get the three points here. Sometimes you gamble and it works; sometimes it doesn't.
Today, it didn't. But we're in third place, three points behind the leaders. Life's not all bad -- the only problem is it could have been a good deal better.