West Ham United, who spent Christmas in fourth place, are by no means a poor side. But they were made to look like one at Stamford Bridge today, going down 2-0 in a match that might have been over long before halftime.
Sam Allardyce wasn't particularly concerned with taking the match to Chelsea, as evidenced by his leaving both Alex Song and Diafra Sakho on the bench, but his side apparently didn't get the memo. Instead, they pressed high up the pitch in an attempt to win possession. It was a far cry from the '19th-century football' we saw in this fixture, and it was also a complete disaster.
Whenever the visitors charged forward to nick the ball high up the pitch, they were easily circumvented, and the resulting holes were exploited with merciless efficiency. The Blues should have gone ahead in the fourth minute, when Willian's cross was allowed to reach the onrushing Oscar, but the Brazilian, perhaps surprised by the gift, was forced into an extra touch and then skied his shot under pressure from Adrian.
Gary Cahill got in on the action as well, heading just wide after a partially-cleared set piece before thumping a shot right down Adrian's gullet after West Ham's defence completely lost him on a corner. By the half-hour mark, Chelsea were starting to get frustrated. They were completely dominant, but thanks to a combination of their own wastefulness and Adrian's goalkeeping heroics, the match was still scoreless.
Step forward, John Terry.
The skipper had notched the opener against Stoke City and he repeated the feat here. Eden Hazard won a corner after some trademark scurrying in the West Ham box, and from there everything was far too easy. Diego Costa rose highest to flick on towards the back post, where both Terry and Nemanja Matic were lurking to poke home. It was Terry who got on the end of the ball, adjusting his feet well and guiding a straightforward shot into the back of the net.
The floodgates briefly looked like opening, and Adrian did well to deny a superb long-ranger from Matic before Costa blazed over from an Ivanovic cross. But the second goal refused to come, and the Blues ended up going into the interval with a hilarious lead in both possession and shots but an extraordinarily slender one in terms of goals.
Naturally, the visitors came out after the break much improved, and took the game to Chelsea for all of five minutes before falling off once more. At this point, Allardyce made changes, pulling off Andy Carroll, who was apparently playing, as well as Mark Noble. On came Sakho and Song. Naturally, after the Hammers did all that work rejigging their team, Costa scored just to spite them.
Matic, who kept up his otherworldly form from the Stoke game, robbed Cheikhou Kouyaté in midfield. Hazard picked out Costa in space, and the striker, up against three defenders, took them all out of play with one little shimmy before sweeping the ball past Adrian to make it 2-0. It was an astonishing, world class goal, and it took any momentum that the West Ham subs might have given them and stomped all over it, yelling happily.
Costa could and should have doubled his tally on the night shortly thereafter, when Ivanovic swung a neat cross for him to meet at the far post, but, his ire having subsided, the forward opted to show mercy on poor Adrian and skewed well over and wide instead.
Oscar was feeling less merciful, forcing the keeper into a smart stop from a curling free kick, and as the game died down Winston Reid was called into action with very nice blocks. Perhaps the only blemish on Chelsea's evening was their lacklustre defending in the final five minutes of play, which saw Morgan Amalfitano twice get clean looks on goal. The winger hit the post once and really should have scored, which would have made the end of the match a far more tense affair.
But he didn't, and the Blues were able to chuckle their way through to full time. Not bad at all.